Nawal El Moutawakel

Week 174 (11 – 17 February 2017)

When the Refugee Olympic Team entered the Maracanã stadium in Rio last summer, the power of sport to unite had never been so clear. This week their incredible story has been honoured at the Laureus World Sports Awards.

Moroccan IOC Member Nawal El Moutawakel delivered a message of hope to millions of refugees all over the world when she announced that the stirring efforts of the Refugee Olympic Team would be internationally recognised at this year’s Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. The award paid tribute to the athletes who epitomised the true meaning of the Olympic spirit in Rio and inspired the world through their harrowing stories.

At the pre-awards press conference, El Moutawakel, the Laureus Academy Member and Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, confirmed that the team were to be honoured with the prestigious Laureus Sport for Good Award for Sporting Inspiration. Their remarkable journey from despair to hope, from escaping their war-torn countries to competing on the world’s biggest sporting stage, is one of sport’s greatest ever stories.

Commenting on their recognition, former 400m Olympic medallist El Moutawakel said: "The Refugee Olympic Team was one of the sporting stories of 2016. We talk about resilience and determination as being key attributes of successful athletes, this team has it in droves. They embody Nelson Mandela’s message that sport can instil hope where once there was only despair."

The Laureus World Sports Awards is an annual award ceremony honouring remarkable individuals from the world of sport along with the greatest sporting achievements throughout the year. It was established in 1999 by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. This year’s award-winning Refugee Olympic Team 2016 were led to the Rio Games by Kenya’s former marathon world record holder Tegla Loroupe, who acted as their Chef de Mission for the Games. She was joined by team members Yiech Pur Biel, the South Sudanese 800 metres runner, and Rami Anis, the Syrian swimmer, at the awards ceremony.

Rami Anis, who is considered one of brightest young sports stars from Syria, said: “This award means so much. Not just to the Refugee Olympic Team, but also to the people who have shown us support in our journey to the Olympic Games. Sport gives everyone a chance, and what happened at the Rio Olympics showed people around the world who have trouble and fear in their lives that there is hope.”

Tegla Loroupe, one of the greatest distance runners in history said: “This award is for the 65.4 million displaced people globally, who cannot go to their homes because of strife. Each of the ten inspirational people in our team have triumphed over adversity and endured unimaginable journeys to get to the start line. We were not in Rio to win medals; we were there with the help of the IOC and the UNHCR to use sport to send a message of hope and positivity to people around the world. More work needs to be done to solve the refugee crisis. We need to work together to make the world a more peaceful place for all people.”

In 1999, at the first ever Laureus World Sports Awards, Nelson Mandela said: “Sport has the power to change the world.” This week, Nawal El Moutawakel communicated the same poignant message. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons