IOC’s Bach: Refugees will be honored at Rio Olympics
ATHENS, Greece — A group of refugee athletes will march together in the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in a symbol of hope for the world’s migrants, IOC President Thomas Bach said Thursday.
On a three-day visit to Greece, Bach also said a refugee would carry the torch during the Greek leg of the flame relay and that the route would include a stop at an Athens refugee camp. The flame lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia will take place on April 21.
“We want to turn the attention of the world to the fate and the problems of the 60 million refugees in our world and their suffering,” Bach said.
He visited the refugee camp in Athens, played soccer with a group of young men, and met potential candidates who could compete for the first time as refugee athletes at the Rio Games.
“They have no hope, no flag to march behind, and no anthem,” Bach said. “We have invited them to participate, and these athletes will march behind the Olympic flag” at the Aug. 5 opening ceremony.
Bach said he expected between five and 10 refugee athletes to qualify for the Olympics. He said he spoke to two potential Olympic competitors in Athens, who could compete in shooting events and karate.
The International Olympic Committee has already pledged $2 million to help refugees, and is asking authorities in refugee camps to identify any top-level international athletes.
The IOC said in December that three potential Olympic athletes had been identified so far from among the wave of refugees and migrants.
Greece has been hard hit by the migration crisis that escalated dramatically in 2015 when more than 850,000 traveled in dinghies and mostly unsafe boats from Turkey to the Greek islands.
Despite growing European pressure on Athens to toughen border controls, Bach described Greece’s assistance to refugees as “really extraordinary” and promised funds for planned sports facilities on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Bach praised progress in Brazil’s Olympic preparations despite the country’s serious financial downturn and outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
“Brazil is in financial and political crisis, and is facing a great corruption scandal,” he said. “And under these circumstances, it is even more remarkable what the Brazilians have done.”
Bach said the timing of the games, during Brazil’s winter, could limit difficulties caused by the virus outbreak, and he promised to have consultations with national Olympic Committees on safety guidelines by late Friday.
Before leaving Athens, Bach on Friday will visit the marble Panathinian Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.