A first-ever at the Olympics, refugee athletes who’ve fled war-torn countries have come together to form the Refugee Olympic Team this year. While they represent a glimmer of hope for all, some athletes still living in the conflict zones weren’t as fortunate to be able to make it for the Rio Games this time round.
Syrian gymnast Ahmad al-Sawas is one example. By supporting the anti-government rebels, the 19-year-old knew that his Olympic dream at Rio would be crushed. Yet, he did it anyway. Living in the rebel-held district of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, and also having fought alongside a rebel group, he has been banned from competing in international competitions. Caught in a five-year civil war that has claimed the lives of over 250,000 people, Syria’s most-populous city of Aleppo remains divided between government-controlled and rebel-held areas.
While the national champion earns his livelihood selling and fixing electronic appliances at his father’s shop, he trains for two hours each day wherever he is able to, and even holds free gymnastic classes for Aleppo children. The young man may have missed out on Rio this time, but his Olympic dream lives on.