This month, when the competitors of the 2016 Rio Olympics complete their opening ceremony laps of the Maracanã stadium, they will be joined by a small group walking without a national flag. These are the Refugee Olympic Team, a group of ten people displaced by conflict and hardships in their own countries, competing together for both sporting glory and to raise awareness of the growing plight of the 65 million refugees in the world today.
In the August issue of Geographical, the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), journalists Chris Fitch and Harriet Constable investigate the lives of the refugee athletes, report on the reasons behind the International Olympic Committee’s decision to host them, and pay an exclusive visit to the track team’s training camp in Kenya to get a direct insight into the lives of these spirited competitors.
Geographical’s August cover feature also tells the inspiring story of Syrian swimmer, Yusra Mardini, who fled her war-torn homeland, braved a perilous sea crossing in which she plunged into the waters to push the stranded boat containing the lives of her fellow passengers, and eventually found a home in Germany before being selected for the Refugee Olympic Team.
“Sometimes you couldn’t train [in Syria] because of the war,” Mardini reveals. “Or sometimes you had training, but there was a bomb in the swimming pool.”
Of her exclusive visit to the makeshift Kenyan training camp that’s hosting the team’s track hopefuls, journalist Harriet Constable says: “I’m always glad to see initiatives that seek to better the lives of the most marginalised in Kenya and beyond. The Olympic Refugee team is a great example of this, and the message that refugees are human beings with masses of potential could not be more important.’
Accompanied by stunning photography of the Olympic hopefuls, Geographical’s feature, entitled Symbols Of Hope, looks into the infrastructure put in place by the IOC both to support the refugee team and to promote sporting activity in refugee camps and holding centres around the world. The IOC has allocated $2million to support programmes and training of athletes, coaches and other support staff in areas “of greatest need”.
Geographical reporter, Chris Fitch, says: “At over 65 million people, there are now more refugees in the world than the entire population of the UK. The athletes who have made the team have all overcome immense hardships, and with such an inspiring determination to succeed, their personal stories spoke for themselves.”
Geographical’s exclusive report comes at an appropriate time, as the world’s attention turns to Rio and the media spotlight provides a chance for the ten athletes to make a mark on the global stage. “This is a great achievement,” says South Sudanese runner Paul Amotun. “It gives us courage and we feel like other humans in life. Sometimes refugees feel ashamed to be refugees, but we feel hope.”
The full story, Symbols of Hope, is live on Geographical’s website (www.geographical.co.uk) and in the August issue available now.
For more information about this release, or to request permission to run extracts from the feature, please contact Geographical’s editorial team on +44 (208) 332 8444 or via email to the editor, Paul Presley: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to Editors
1. Geographical is the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), and was founded by Michael Huxley in 1935. Informative, authoritative and educational, Geographical covers a wide range of subject areas, from geography, culture, wildlife and exploration, illustrated with superb photography. Society members and Fellows can receive Geographical as part of their membership. Geographical can also be bought in newsagents or by subscription and publishes twelve times a year both in print and as a digital app. www.geographical.co.uk
2. The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) is the learned society and professional body for geography. Formed in 1830 for 'the advancement of geographical science', today we deliver this objective through developing, supporting and promoting geographical research, expeditions and fieldwork, education, public engagement, and geography input to policy. We aim to foster an understanding and informed enjoyment of our world. We hold the world's largest private geographical collection and provide public access to it. We have a thriving Fellowship and membership and offer the professional accreditation 'Chartered Geographer’ www.rgs.org