Rio’s Refugee team: ‘Sport can transform’

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Rio de Janeiro – Judokas Popole Misenga and Yolande Mabika from the Democratic Republic of the Congo talk while attending a press conference given by the Olympic Refugee Team on August 2, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

by Charles Camenzuli, AIPS Europe Secretary General

RIO DE JANEIRO, August 11, 2016 – For Geraldo Bernardes, coach and mentor for the judo team within the Refugee Olympic Team, sport can transform.

“It can transform a way of life and can become a tool that shifts mentalities in politics. When one is integrated in sport, they are not just a number, but someone with dignity and rights.”

Bernardes was one of the main speakers during the IOC media conference in connection with the Refugee Olympic Team, led by co-ordinator Sophie Edington and Isabela Mazao, deputy chef the mission for the ROT contingent.

Isabela Mazeo made reference to how after the Olympic Games, these athletes will be fully integrated within the sport discipline family they participate in and how their progress will be monitored in the country they are situated in as refugees.

For Mazeo, the project was a challenge of the best kind.

“After this Olympic experience it is a great encourgement even for the IOC to increase its assistance to promote sport, especially in refugee camps. This is the ideal way to promote integration and the Rio 2016 experience had a great overwhelming support from everyone.”

Judokas Yolande Mabika and Pople Misenga who have been in Brazil for the past three years found a second father in coach Geraldo Bernardes. For them, Bernardes is the one who brought them back to judo a year ago and the one who gave them the chance to be in the Olympic Games.

Yolande Mabika’s debut in Rio was in the 70kg category where she lost against Linda Bolder of Israel. It took time for Mabika to beat the language barrier, but she did. Speaking to media in clear Portuguese to the media, she said:

“After the experience in Rio I strongly want to be back for Tokyo in 2020. I want to participate as I am an athlete. Escaping war for more than ten years away from my family, sport was my only alternative. Sport will continue to help me to develop in all aspects of life.”

Popole Misenga still recalls with enthusiasm not only the entrance during the Opening Ceremony but also how the supporters at the Carioca Arena greeted him when he managed to win his first bout in the competition. “ In my second match, losing against a world champion for me meant that I am a winner. My only aim is to win. My only aim is to succeed. For me this is the next challenge.” In Rio, in the 90kg category Misenga menaged to beat Avtar Singh of India after loosing in the last sixteen bracket against Gwak Dong Han of Korea.

Courtesy AIPS

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