The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has confirmed plans to send up to six athletes to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as part of a Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT). The IPC will work with its commercial partners and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to create awareness of the plight faced by refugee athletes and send a message of hope to the almost 80 million forcibly displaced worldwide.
Leading the team will be Ileana Rodriguez – herself both a former refugee and a London 2012 Paralympian – who has been appointed the Chef de Mission for the RPT. Rodriguez will work with the IPC to select the RPT for Tokyo 2020, which will be chosen from a strong pool of already identified refugee Para athletes with the potential to make the Games.
The IPC is offering a range of in and out of competition support to the prospective RPT athletes. The IPC will:
- Help prospective athletes meet the qualification target and eligibility criteria for the Games.
- Provide funding for athletes to attend Tokyo 2020 qualification events.
- Support athletes to prepare for competition, such as coaching support – this is because of the training limitations that COVID-19 is imposing on refugee athletes.
- Support up to six athletes selected for Tokyo 2020 with their participation at the Games.
- Provide Games legacy support, helping the RPT athletes to compete in further competitions through to the end of 2021.
To be considered for the team, athletes must have confirmed refugee status in accordance with international, national and regional law. Athletes will be subject for selection by the IPC and/or their international federation. This is primarily based on performance and them meeting the eligibility criteria. No athletes have currently been selected for the RPT for Tokyo 2020.
Several of the IPC’s commercial partners have already offered their commitment to help the RPT:
- Airbnb – Worldwide Paralympic Partner, Airbnb, as part of its mission of belonging has been supporting refugee initiatives since 2015 through its “Open Homes” programme and Paralympian Experiences - and will be a lead partner of the Refugee Paralympic Team.
- ASICS – Official Supplier of the IPC, ASICS will also be the official sport apparel kit provider of the RPT at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
- Panasonic - Worldwide Paralympic Partner Panasonic recently published a photo book “Ayase Haruka meets Beautiful Athletes” showcasing their "Beautiful Japan towards 2020” campaign. Part of the proceeds from the sales of this book will be donated to supporting the RPT.
Additionally, the IPC will work in close collaboration with UNHCR to leverage the RPT and the Games in sending a strong message of support to all refugees and others forced from their homes by conflict and persecution. While they all face significant challenges, those with disabilities are frequently at heightened risk and face barriers to accessing assistance, services and opportunities. Together with UNHCR, IPC will continue to promote the active inclusion and full participation of refugees with disabilities in society through Paralympic sports.
For Tokyo 2020, the IPC and Chef de Mission Rodriguez are assembling a team to fully support the needs of the RPT. As a former refugee and Paralympian, Rodriguez offers the RPT invaluable insights. Born in Cuba, she and her family left for the United States when she was a teenager in the hope of finding better treatment for a malformation of the spine which left her paralysed.
After becoming a US citizen, Rodriguez competed in swimming for Team USA at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. She was a finalist in the Women’s 100m breaststroke SB5 in London. The 35-year-old is an architect who runs a consultancy that specialises in creating accessible design for buildings.
Speaking of her appointment, Ileana Rodriguez, said: “It is an honour to be appointed by the IPC for this role. As a former refugee who was lucky enough to compete in the Paralympics, I appreciate the value of having a Refugee Paralympic Team - it represents sports beyond nationalities and our athletes who will compete in Tokyo will be a symbol of hope for other refugees around the world.
“We will also be proud to represent the legacy of Sir Ludwig Guttmann. He was a refugee who found a new home to welcome him and repaid that kindness by helping create one of the world’s great movements, the Paralympic Movement. I hope the RPT will encourage others around the world to support refugee athletes and give them the platform to raise awareness of the plight faced by all refugees.”
Dominique Hyde, Director of the Division of External Relations at the UN Refugee Agency, added: “Despite living on a razor-edge existence and facing challenges to their training routines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the resilience and determination of the prospective athletes shines through.
“UNHCR is delighted to support this initiative of the International Paralympic Committee. It will showcase the incredible abilities of these refugee Paralympians who have overcome, at times, insurmountable obstacles to reach the pinnacle of sport for all athletes.”
The RPT builds on previous refugee initiatives created by the IPC. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games a two-person team of refugee and asylee athletes formed the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team. The athletes were: Ibrahim Al Hussein of Syria, who competed in the 50m and 100m freestyle S9 swimming events, and Shahrad Nasajpour of Iran, who competed in discus F37.