October 30, 2020
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has confirmed plans to send up to six athletes to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as part of a Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT). Working with its commercial partners and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, IPC is looking to increase awareness of the plight faced by refugee athletes and send a broader message of hope to the almost 80 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.
Leading the team will be former refugee and a London 2012 Paralympian, Ileana Rodriguez. Appointed the Chef de Mission for the RPT, she will work with the IPC to select members for the RPT chosen from a strong pool of already identified refugee Para athletes with the potential to make the Games.
Rodriguez was born in Cuba but went on to compete for Team USA. Her family left for the US when she was a teenager in the hopes of finding better treatment for a malformation of the spine which left her paralyzed. In London, she made it to the finals of the women's 100 metres breaststroke SB5.
"As a former refugee who was lucky enough to compete in the Paralympics, I appreciate the value of having a Refugee Paralympic Team – it represents sports beyond nationalities and our athletes who will compete in Tokyo will be a symbol of hope for other refugees around the world.
"I hope the RPT will encourage others around the world to support refugee athletes and give them the platform to raise awareness of the plight faced by all refugees," said Rodriquez.
The IPC is offering a range of in and out of competition support to the prospective athletes, including:
- Helping prospective athletes meet the qualification targets and eligibility criteria for the Games.
- Providing funding for athletes to attend Tokyo 2020 qualification events.
- Supporting athletes to prepare for competition, such as with coaching, to address training limitations caused by COVID-19.
- Supporting up to six athletes selected for Tokyo 2020 with their participation at the Games.
- Providing Games legacy support, helping the RPT athletes to compete in further competitions through the end of 2021.
Additionally, the IPC will work in close collaboration with UNHCR to leverage the RPT and the Games in sending a strong message of support to all refugees and others forced from their homes by conflict and persecution.
While they all face significant challenges, those with disabilities are frequently at heightened risk and face barriers to accessing assistance, services and opportunities. Together with UNHCR, IPC will continue to promote the active inclusion and full participation of refugees with disabilities in society through Paralympic sports.
The RPT builds on previous refugee initiatives created by the IPC. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games a two-person team of refugee and asylee athletes formed the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team. The athletes were: Ibrahim Al Hussein of Syria, who competed in the 50m and 100 m S10 freestyle swimming events, and Shahrad Nasajpour of Iran, who competed in discus F37.
Dominique Hyde, Director of the Division of External Relations at the UN Refugee Agency, added: “Despite living a razor-edge existence and facing challenges to their training routines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the resilience and determination of these refugee athletes continue to shine through.
“UNHCR is delighted to support this initiative of the International Paralympic Committee. It will showcase the incredible abilities of these refugee Paralympians who have overcome, at times, insurmountable obstacles to reach the pinnacle of sport for all athletes.”