Olympians Without Nations: Refugees Head to Summer Games

In August of 2015, Yusra Mardini and her sister, Sarah, fled Syria after their home was destroyed in the countrys civil war. The sisters traveled on land through Lebanon and Turkey, eventually boarding a boat with 18 other refugees. When that boat’s motor failed in the Aegean Sea, Mardini, her sister, and another woman jumped out and pushed the boat for three hours to the island of Lesbos. “These things are not about sports only but about longing for freedom.” Mardini would later tell a press conference in Berlin that “it would be a real shame if I drowned in the sea.” Many refugees do drown attempting to reach safety in Europe — 2,500 died this year alone — but that is not what Mardini meant. Mardini is a competitive swimmer, and she is one of 10 athletes selected this week to compete on a refugee Olympic team at the 2016 Rio Olympics. For a group of people stripped of their homes and citizenship, it’s an effort to restore an element of their humanity: sports.”

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