Refugee Team demonstrates Olympic spirit, sends message of hope

Refugee Olympic Team members will compete across 12 sports during the Paris Olympic Games. Photo: Courtesy of International Olympic Committee

Refugee Olympic Team members will compete across 12 sports during the Paris Olympic Games. Photo: Courtesy of International Olympic Committee

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has unveiled its largest Refugee Olympic Team to date for the Paris Olympic Games and a new emblem for the team.

A total of 36 athletes from 11 different countries and regions will compete across 12 sports including swimming, badminton and breaking during the Paris Games from July 26 to August 11, marking the third time for the Refugee Team to take part in the Olympic Games since Rio 2016. 

The announcement was made by IOC president Thomas Bach during a live-streamed ceremony from Olympic House in Lausanne, Switzerland on May 2.

“With your participation in the Olympic Games, you will demonstrate the human potential for resilience and excellence. This will send a message of hope to the more than 100 million displaced people around the world. At the same time, you will make billions of people around the world aware of the magnitude of the refugee crisis,” said Bach.

The establishment of a Refugee Team is more than an enrichment to the Olympic community. It is the best interpretation of the Olympic spirit of peace, mutual respect and understanding by promoting inclusiveness, unity, perseverance and fair play and it serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of sport.

The Olympic Games aim to bring together athletes from all over the world to compete regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or background. 

In 2024, for the first time in the Olympic history, the Refugee Team will compete under its own emblem, instead of the Olympic flag with its signature five interlocked rings. Bringing a unique identity to the team, the design of a circle of arrows around a red heart represents the team members coming from different corners of the world and sharing their unique journeys.

The Refugee Olympic Team symbolizes unity and solidarity among nations and athletes. It sends the powerful message that despite the challenges and adversities faced by refugees, they can come together as a team and compete alongside athletes from around the world.

Additionally, the participation of refugee athletes in the Olympic Games promotes a message of peace and understanding. It highlights the human cost of conflict and displacement while at the same time emphasizing the importance of global cooperation and support for refugees.

In promoting peace, the team’s purpose positions itself on the same level as the Olympic Truce, an ancient Greek tradition which required the cessation of all hostilities to secure safe passage for athletes during the ancient Olympic Games.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were an estimated 114 million people forcibly displaced worldwide as of September of 2023.

Supporting refugees and displaced populations remains a key priority for the IOC, and is part of Olympic Agenda. The Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) was established in 2017 to build on this commitment.

Representing the people affected by war and poverty, refugee athletes from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Syria will take this opportunity to raise global awareness of the refugee crisis and serve as role models to inspire individuals facing adversities worldwide and convey to the world a call for unity and peace. 

This year, the team will be led by Chef de Mission Masomah Ali Zada, who competed for the Refugee Team at Tokyo 2020 in road cycling. In an interview, Zada commented: “With all the challenges that you have faced, you now have a chance to inspire a new generation, represent something bigger than yourselves and show the world what refugees are capable of,”

The presence of the Refugee Team at the Olympic Games is a perfect example of how sports are able to promote global peace and the harmonious coexistence of mankind, said a Chinese netizen on X-like Sina Weibo. 

The Olympic spirit represents the universal values of excellence, friendship, respect, sportsmanship, and inspiration that unite athletes and people around the world in the pursuit of athletic achievement and human excellence.

The Refugee Olympic Team will definitely leave a lasting legacy beyond the Games and it is hoped that such initiative will lead to increased support and opportunities for refugee athletes at all levels of sport, encouraging participation, integration, and social inclusion in communities worldwide.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected]

Ex-captain Zhu’s return boosts Chinese women’s volleyball team’s Paris hopes

China's Zhu Ting (right) spikes during the match against Turkey at the Tokyo Olympics on July 25. Photo: Cui Meng/Global Times

China’s Zhu Ting (right) spikes during the match against Turkey at the Tokyo Olympics on July 25, 2021. Photo: Cui Meng/Global Times

Chinese volleyball looks like it will get a shot in the arm as former captain of the national women’s team Zhu Ting announced a comeback via her personal social media account on Monday night. 

While playing for Pallavolo Scandicci in the Italian league, the 29-year-old volleyball icon said on her X-like Sina Weibo account that she will return to the national team during the 2024 Volleyball Women’s Nations League that is scheduled to begin in May.

The most valuable player during China’s run to Olympic gold at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 said that “the sole objective of my return is to help the national team secure qualification for the Paris Olympics.”

To achieve this end and avoid any distractions and misunderstandings, Zhu has shunned all commercial activities.

“I will not participate in any commercial activities or endorsements while with the national team. I will focus on recovering my physical fitness as quickly as possible to catch up with the national team. I will devote myself wholeheartedly to training and matches, working together with the team to secure qualification for the Paris Games,” Zhu noted. 

As one of the most recognizable faces in Chinese sports, Zhu is to the national women’s volleyball team what Yao Ming was to the national basketball team.

Her timely return to the national team undoubtedly provides a significant morale boost to the squad, given her experience, talent, and leadership qualities. 

Zhu’s presence on the court not only elevates the team’s performance but also serves as an inspiration to her teammates and fans alike.

With the other addition of Zhang Changning, another Rio Olympic champion who returned in February, the national team’s prospects for securing a place in the Paris Games have significantly improved. 

The team, comprising both promising young talents and experienced veterans, has reignited hopes for a successful campaign in Paris.

Qualifying for the Olympic Games is of great significance for any national team. However, for the women’s volleyball team, which holds a special place in Chinese sports history, missing the Olympic Games is hard to swallow for fans. 

Since their groundbreaking victory at the 1981 World Cup, the volleyball team has been a source of immense national pride for China. 

Their achievements on the international stage, including three Olympic gold medals and multiple world championship titles, have elevated the country’s profile. Their dedication, teamwork, and perseverance have inspired generations of athletes to pursue excellence in sports. 

Currently engaged in close-door training under head coach Cai Bin, the team has to fight for a high world ranking at the coming Volleyball Nations League to secure a spot for the Paris Olympics.

Regarded as one of the best volleyball players in the world, Zhu’s experience and skill set make her an invaluable asset to the team, particularly in high-stakes matches where her leadership and composure can make a difference.

In her announcement, she revealed that she had once lost interest in volleyball and all but retired due to injury and rumors.

“From the end of 2023 to this year’s Spring Festival, I suffered serious fatigue and a slump in form to the point where I couldn’t even handle routine matches. The various rumors and deliberate attacks against me on the internet since the Tokyo Games, weighed on me and even affected my family. I once lost interest in volleyball, so I had submitted a retirement application,” Zhu said on Sina Weibo. 

She attributed her comeback to former national team coach Lang Ping, who repeatedly helped her analyze her physical and technical problems and urged her to strengthen physical training. Lang masterminded the team to the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games, becoming the first person in volleyball history to have won Olympic gold both as a player and as a coach.

Having recovered from a wrist injury, Zhu has been regaining her form and restoring confidence. Her comeback and her role in helping China qualify for the Paris Olympic Games will highlight her enduring legacy in the world of volleyball. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected]

Second-tier artistic swimming squad grabs 6 golds at World Cup

Photo: Courtesy of organizers

Photo: Courtesy of organizers

Team China totaled six gold and three silver medals at the Beijing stop of the World Aquatics artistic swimming World Cup, with the young Chinese athletes setting their sights on a major international stage.

Although Team China did not win any gold medals in three events on Sunday, two silver medals are enough to keep the team at the top of the medal table in a competition that attracted nearly 100 elite artistic swimmers from 14 countries and regions.

Among the 11 medal events at stake, host China competed in all the events, but the top-level swimmers of the national team only participated in the Team Free event, while the second-tier national team members competed across the rest of the 10 events.

Sisters Wang Liuyi and Wang Qianyi, reigning world champions, are the new faces in China’s Team Free squad. Guo Muye, aged 15, is the youngest athlete in the squad but contributed one gold medal in the mixed duet technical with 15-year-old partner Ji Heyue and one silver medal in men’s solo technical. 

“For the first-team athletes, it is important to build upon the foundation of the worlds and make adjustments based on the revised rules, including artistic impressions and difficulty of execution,” China’s head coach Zhang Xiaohuan told reporters. 

“We are also looking forward to receiving valuable feedback from the judges in this competition. We hope to receive better recognition in terms of artistic impressions.”

Team China achieved its best-ever performance at the worlds this year, winning seven golds, one silver, and one bronze medals across 11 events at the world championships in Doha in February.

As the Olympics approach this year, international events are considered one of the best ways to evaluate athletes’ training results. Zhang remains cautious about China’s prospect at the Paris Olympics. 

“Some moves that were possible in Doha will not be seen again,” Zhang told reporters, referring to the rule modifications in the sport. “This change presents a challenge for the team.”

She noted, however, that Chinese athletes are far from getting complacent in the sport. 

“Our team currently has a strong sense of crisis and we need to set higher standards for ourselves,” Zhang noted. 

“Our main focus at this stage is to improve the quality of our routines under the revised new rules and to prevent injuries and illnesses for the athletes.”

Swimmer Wu Jingyan is among the second-tier squad members who debuted at the World Cup. She told the Global Times that having the opportunity to compete in international competitions motivates her to put even more effort into training. 

“It is a great honor to represent China in such an international competition,” the 24-year-old said after Sunday’s Team Acrobatic race. “Participation in the events helped us identify where there is room for improvement, and I think it will boost the whole team to train ­harder.”

The Water Cube, the venue for swimming events of the 2008 Summer Olympics and redesigned for curling events for the 2022 Winter Olympics, is one of the prominent aquatics venues in China. 

The World Aquatics Artistic Swimming World Cup 2024 series has four legs this season. After the Beijing event, the series will travel to Paris in France from May 3 to 5, then Markham, Canada, from May 31 to June 2, followed by a Super Final in Budapest, Hungary, from July 5 to 7.

Team China is expected to send their first-team squad to the Paris leg of the event, as the venue of the World Cup event, which was unveiled earlier this week, will also be the venue for the Paris Olympics. 

Beijing has previously hosted 35 World Aquatics events, including two editions each of the artistic swimming World Cup events in 2018 and 2019. The city will host the World Aquatics Championships in 2029.