Earlier this month The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that they are creating a team of Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA) for the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

Forty-three athletes are competing for a spot on the ROA team, among them is 17-year-old Syrian refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini.

Yusra, who represented Syria at the short-course World Championships in Turkey in 2012, fled the conflict in her home country along with her sister, Sarah, in August 2015. They made their way to Lebanon and then Turkey, where they paid smugglers to take them to Greece. Today, Yusra and Sarah are living in Germany.


In a video released by the IOC, Yusra talks about the challenges she’s faced keeping up with her intense training. “The war was hard; sometimes we couldn’t train because of the war. Or sometimes you had training but there was a bomb in the swimming pool,” she describes.

The final team will be made up of 5-10 athletes. Selected team members must reach specific sporting standards and have official refugee status verified by the United Nations (UN), and will enjoy the same Olympic experience as the other teams.

“We want to send a message of hope for all refuges in our world,” said IOC President Thomas Bach in a press release. “Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic anthem.” Olympic Solidarity will be covering all travel and expenses for the team.

Having endured the traumatic experience of fleeting her home country, Yusra has a clear vision for the future, “My target is to qualify for the Olympics and to be an inspiration for everyone. I want to show everybody what a refugee can do,” she shares. “It’s hard to arrive at your dreams, but it’s not impossible. Everyone can do it if I can do it.”