“It was a very exciting environment, exciting even for me as a first-time Paralympian."
Ibrahim Al Hussein put his arm around Shahrad Nasajpour and moved to the Brazilian beats as teams were welcomed into the Rio 2016 Paralympic Village with live music, performances and dancing.
In a tradition that officially greets delegations at the Village, the Team Welcome Ceremony infuses some of the host nation’s culture and customs with its guests. The event was special for Al Hussein and Nasajpour, the two refugee and asylee Para athletes comprising the Independent Paralympic Athletes (IPA) Team.
They were joined by Chile, Ireland and France on Saturday evening (3 September) at the Village Plaza. The Ceremony opened with Brazilian tribal dancing, indigenous chants and African drums. It transitioned to the flag raising and national anthems for each nations.
And then the music turned up.
Professional dancers went into samba and hip-hop performances, and encouraged the delegations at the Ceremony to participate.
Although the smallest delegation – eight compared to 20-plus from the other three nations – at the Ceremony that evening, Al Hussein and Nasajpour got sucked into the party.
“It was a very exciting environment, exciting even for me as a first-time Paralympian,” Nasajpour said.
“I’m living here [near the Village Plaza] so I’ve been hearing it outside my window. I saw [the last few Welcoming Ceremonies] outside my balcony. But actually being here is awesome.”
All delegations receive an official Welcome Ceremony at the Village, with the Village Welcome Ceremony Organising Team expected to plan 45 similar Ceremonies.
For the IPA, this is the first time a dedicated team of its kind will compete at the Paralympic Games. Al Hussein and Nasajpour will be competing under the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) flag, with the IPC anthem to be played.
At the Ceremony, Al Hussein and Nasajpour watched the flag being raised as the anthem played in the background, perhaps a moment they may only experience once during these Games. But it was still a special moment.
Village mayor, former player basketball player and two-time Brazilian Olympic medallist Janeth Arcain, and her deputy, former sprinter and multiple Paralympic champion Adria dos Santos welcomed the teams with a speech.