Thousands of spectators rippled to their feet while millions of others around the world joyfully watched live images on TV as the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) marched in Brazil’s Maracanã Stadium for the Opening Ceremony. Comprised of five South Sudanese runners, two Congolese judokas, two swimmers from Syria and a marathoner from Ethiopia, the six male and four female athletes were selected from a pool of 43 possible candidates. Their inclusion was one of the top feel-good moments of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio because the 10-athlete-team not only carried the Olympic flag, but also a message of hope for millions of young people that have been driven from their homes.
However, while there is much to celebrate and many to praise for this unprecedented and historical initiative in the world of sports, in an ideal world such a team should not exist at all. The few joyful moments - compounded with our cheers - should not obscure the realities of unmatched human suffering in refugee camps worldwide. The very existence of such a team reminds us that the world has collectively failed over 65 million displaced people in helping them return home or find a new place to call their permanent home. These athletes represent a community that is running away from regional conflicts, civil wars, aggressions, genocides, famines, poverty, and diseases— some of which are so deep-rooted that finding viable solutions seems elusive.