Rio de Janeiro: Of the nearly 4,000 athletes competing in the Rio Paralympics, all but two are doing so for their country.
Syrian swimmer Ebrahim Al Hussain and Iranian-born discus thrower Shahrad Nasajpour make up the first refugee team at the Paralympics.
“All the years I dedicated to sports did not go in vain,” said Al Hussain, who lost part of his right leg in a bombing in his Syrian hometown.
“I think we were trying to show that the values that the [Paralympics] holds is to provide opportunities regardless of the circumstances of individuals with impairments,” said Chef de mission Tony Sainsbury, regarding the creation of the refugee team. “Those opportunities exist for them provided that they can demonstrate that they are of the right standard of potential.”
Sainsbury said athletes must meet three criteria to be considered. They need to be officially recognised as refugees, who had sought and were granted asylum. They need to return from Brazil to the nations where they sought asylum, and they had to turn in a “credible performance,” he said.
Mohamad Al Abed, who lived in the same area as Al Hussain, fled Syria and now resides in the Netherlands. He said that while he doesn’t know Al Hussain personally, “everyone knows of the heroic Syrian swimmer.”
While neither refugee competitor medalled, Al Hussain hopes to leave behind a different type of legacy at the Paralympic Games. He says he feels “having represented the refugees of the world and having the word ‘refugee’ circulated throughout the world is the most important thing I could have done.”