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South Sudanese refugees prepare for Rio Games


07-28-2016 16:00 BJT

There will be a very special group at the Rio Games. For various reasons, these refugees are unable to compete under their country’s flag, but they have been chosen to be part of the Games, and will enter the Maracana stadium under the Olympic banner. The squad is made up of 10 athletes, with half of them coming from the world’s newest nation—South Sudan. And their inclusion has more to it than just sports.

They are a quintet of runners from South Sudan—they run in unison. They run for each other. But more importantly they run for those fleeing conflicts around the world. Pur Biel lost contact with his family as his country remains mired in conflict

“Most of them they lose hope in life. When you call someone a refugee, they feel ashamed. Even some of them, maybe, they don’t have a chance to do everything other human beings can do, like going to a school. Most of them stay in the camps because they are losing hope in life. As ambassador for them I can tell them don’t lose hope in life, you have a chance to change your life,” Biel said.

Strife in South Sudan forced them out of their own country, so now they must train in Kenya. They workout together, and have become a surrogate family, but their own loved ones are never far from their minds.

“It makes them happy that I get this chance and they just give me that encouragement. They told my uncle to come and tell me that I should utilise it well, also that I should remember the refugees when I come back from Rio,” said James Chiengjiek, South Sudanese Olympic refugee.

They are aware that their participation has a much bigger impact than winning or losing—providing hope to others.

“I think for me I feel very excited because this time it is the first chance for the refugees to participate in the Olympics and to give us hope, for us to encourage the young generations, fellow refugees, who are remaining in the camps maybe to continue their talent,” said Rose Nathike, South Sudanese Olympic refugee.

The full refugee team also includes two swimmers from Syria and two Judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and an Ethiopian marathoner. They know their next trip will take them to Rio, but that is just the start of their journey as they seek a permanent home.

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