The athlete who has taken on the mantle of captain of the Refugee Paralympic Team at Tokyo 2020, Ibrahim Al Hussein, had to fight through the pain of a lung injury before the Games in order to compete in Japan.
Al Hussein revealed his battle to reporters for the first time after finishing his heat and his final competition in Tokyo, the men’s 50m freestyle S9, in a time of 30.27 seconds, well off his personal best.
“I was literally swimming with my right lung not functioning," he said. "I was breathing from one lung and doing my best in this situation.”
Al Hussein says the injury was not about to keep him from competing on the six-member Refugee Paralympic Team in Tokyo.
“I came here to deliver a message to the 12 million refugees with a disability around the world. I know millions of the athletes are watching me and hoping for me to do my best.”
Al Hussein says his doctor has not been able to diagnose the full extent of his injury but has told him it may require surgery when he returns to Greece.
Ⓒ James Varghese
This was the second time Al Hussein has represented refugees at the Paralympics. At Rio 2016, he carried the flag into the Opening Ceremony on a team of two that was then known as the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team.
“I would like to thank the International Paralympic Committee for helping organise this team with all these different nationalities. I am proud to represent the refugee team which was the first team to march in the Opening Ceremony.”
Al Hussein lost his leg in a bomb blast in Syria during the war there and nearly died. Sport has given him new life.
“I think God wants me to stay alive for a purpose and that is to help all these people. And that's what I why I'm doing right now.”
Al Hussein is trying to offer the opportunity for other refugees to do sport, knowing how much it has meant to him. Back in Greece where he now lives, he founded and helps run a wheelchair basketball league for refugees from all over Europe. There are 17 participants.
Al Hussein, who was often seen waving and smiling to every person on the street while travelling on the bus to the Tokyo Aquatic Centre, offered special thanks to the people of Japan for organising these Games at a very challenging time.
“From the time we left from the Paralympic Village to the venues here and seeing all the local people waving to us, it made us feel warm and made me feel really happy. To the Japanese people: You have one of the best nations in the world. Thank you.”