Damascus to Tokyo 2020: Syrian refugees’ remarkable journeys to the Olympic Games

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Mahmoud left Syria to pursue his dream of competing in badminton on the largest stage on this planet — a dream that’s set to return true in Tokyo this summer time.

The 23-year-old left Damascus looking for new alternatives, and with it, he left every part behind.

“Leaving… my household, my associates, my homeland. This was probably the most troublesome factor,” stated Mahmoud.

“I made a decision to depart Syria as a result of I wished to seek for the higher future for me as an individual and likewise to really feel secure, to stay a standard life.

“The second purpose was to have extra possibilities to proceed my badminton profession.”

The Syrian civil struggle started in March, 2011. There are actually 6.6 million Syrian refugees worldwide, of whom 5.6 million are hosted in international locations close to Syria, in line with the UN Refugee Company. In Syria, 13.4 million persons are in want of humanitarian help.

Ahmad Badreddin Wais  competing in the 52.5km time-trial race from Rattenberg to Innsbruck  at the 91st UCI Road World Championships in September 2018.

Climbing the mountain

Like Mahmoud, Ahmad Badreddin Wais journeyed from war-torn Syria to Europe to pursue a safer existence.

Touring by a mix of taxi, boat and airplane, Wais has settled in Switzerland as he trains to compete within the biking time trial in Tokyo.

“At first, the plan was not likely to return to Switzerland. The plan was to be distant from this struggle,” stated Wais.

“I wished to be within the heart of Europe and to proceed to Belgium, as a result of Belgium was for me the house of biking.

“However the way in which there, the journey was very lengthy and I used to be very drained and I ended in Switzerland and I believe I fell in love with the mountain and all these lakes.”

Not like Mahmoud, Wais says he stayed in Syria for a further yr after his household had already made the choice to flee.

He stayed behind in an effort to compete for Syria in biking however determined to depart in 2014.

“It was exhausting for me as a result of they are saying I need to do coaching on daily basis, however in my head it was very troublesome to see what occurred round and we lose lots of people, loads of family and friends. And eventually, with the game, I say, ‘No, I can’t proceed.'”

Regardless of discovering a brand new residence, Wais says the journey took a lot out of him that he was not in a position to compete once more for over two years till 2017 when he set his sights on the Olympic Games.

After receiving a scholarship from the Worldwide Olympic Committee in 2019 as part of its refugee athlete program, the 30-year-old Wais is now centered on performing properly on the video games and exhibiting the world what refugee athletes can do.

“I hope to be within the prime 20 within the time trial for positive; that is my aim or to be the very best rider from Asia.

“It means, for me, rather a lot. It means loads of work, what I do earlier than [the Games] to be part of this group and to current this group in the very best picture on this planet.

“And for positive, I’ll give all my finest to be with this group and to be an excellent image for all these individuals who have left one thing behind.”

Years after making the difficult choice to leave his home, Aram Mahmoud is now one of 29 refugee athletes that will compete at the 2020 Olympic Games under the Olympic flag.

‘Hold combating for my dream’

Though centered on competing in Tokyo, Mahmoud’s predominant aim is to be reunited along with his household.

He describes an upbringing the place his household was typically collectively — even in sport. Mahmoud’s father coached him and his siblings, whereas he additionally educated along with his sister.

“Once they heard I bought a scholarship from the Olympic Solidarity Undertaking, they had been very completely happy as a result of I’ve, like lastly bought my likelihood to show one thing, to proceed what I wished really from once I was younger.

“So for them, it was essential that I maintain combating really for my dream and now to be part of the group and to have the ability to take part within the Olympics.”

Since leaving Syria, Mahmoud traveled and settled within the Netherlands earlier than ending up in Denmark in January 2021 to pursue his coaching on the Badminton Centre of Excellence.

Like Wais, Mahmoud says that representing the refugee group in Tokyo will imply every part.

“It means rather a lot for me, as a result of now we will show to the world really that we’re in a position to do one thing and we now have a aim.

“We’re combating for our objectives, to succeed in our objectives and to let the world see that we will do rather a lot.”

The refugee Olympic group was first fashioned for the Rio 2016 Video games and is as a chance to indicate the world that refugees are extra than simply their migrant standing.

Compatriot and fellow refugee, Yusra Mardini, was one of many 10 athletes chosen to signify the inaugural Olympic refugee group in Rio.

Mardini and her sister had been inspired to swim from a younger age and set their sights on the Olympics after watching Michael Phelps compete on tv.

After fleeing Syria, the sisters discovered a brand new residence in Germany the place Mardini continued to swim and observe her goals. Nonetheless, when she walked out with the Refugee group in 2016, she felt diminished by her newfound standing: “diminished to a single phrase.”

Now, as an envoy to the UNHCR and returning to the 2020 Video games below the Olympic flag, she says she desires to encourage and educate folks around the globe about refugees.”Final Olympics, I represented greater than Syria,” Mardini informed CNN Sport.

“I represented tens of millions around the globe. And I actually love this concept. If I will compete below the German flag, or the Syrian flag or the Olympic Flag, I will be representing all of them.

“Sport really gave me this actually robust voice. I’m utilizing it to assist refugees to get them to raised locations, to get them shelter and to only let the folks perceive that they need to open borders for them.”

Ahmad Badreddin Wais competing at the 92nd UCI Road World Championships in 2019.

The ability of sport

Whereas their journeys to the Olympics have been completely different, each Wais and Mahmoud share one putting expertise.

They’ve managed to seek out new properties and join with their communities by means of their sports activities.

“Biking, to illustrate sport, helped me rather a lot, too, to neglect what’s occurred earlier than [the war] and to be remedy for me.

“It was the most suitable choice to fulfill new folks, to have contact, to get to know this tradition in Switzerland and in Europe, and it was very useful for me,” defined Wais.

Mahmoud had the same expertise by means of badminton when he arrived in Europe.

“It was troublesome once I transfer from Syria to a special nation, a special tradition; every part is completely different there.

“The badminton helped me really to develop into a part of the neighborhood there; as a result of I performed properly, I instantly I made some associates.

“That was probably the most lovely factor to have. As a sport or as one thing else to have the ability to combine and be taught some extra.

“You recognize extra about their tradition throughout the sparring and throughout the coaching.”

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