As part of its ongoing commitment to facilitate sporting programmes for refugees around the world, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the summer of 2016 provided crucial funding to assist the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) and local municipality of Lesbos to rebuild a stadium in the Greek island’s village of Moria. As well as being used by the local community, the stadium is now providing valuable opportunities for the island’s large refugee population.
A delegation from the IOC and the HOC, headed by IOC Member Mario Pescante, HOC President Spyros Capralos and Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis, who won Olympic bronze in sailing at Rio 2016, were in Lesbos on 1 October to inspect the stadium and visit the local Kare Tepe refugee camp, where they handed over a consignment of sports equipment for the camp’s children.The two Olympic medallists took part in a sailing demonstration at the port of Mytilene along with members of the island’s local sailing clubs. This was followed later by a visit to the newly renovated stadium at Moria, and a meeting with local village officials.
“From the first moment, when the refugee crisis broke out, the President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach took initiatives as the Olympic Movement fully understands the significance of the role of sport in the relieving the refugee crisis,” said the HOC President Capralos.
During the recent IOC Session in Lima, Peru, the IOC President announced the launch of the Olympic Refuge Foundation, which will work in cooperation with the United Nations (UN), with a view to creating structures and programmes in those parts of the world where there is a refugee population.
“We are pleased that the IOC is represented in Lesbos by its former Vice-President, Mario Pescante, who now plays an important role as the IOC’s permanent observer at the United Nations… Being Italian, Mr Pescante is well aware of the refugee crisis, as Italy and Greece are being particularly affected,” added Capralos.
“In cooperation with the Municipality of Lesbos and the Mayor Spyros Galinos, we will discuss possibilities for Greece and Italy to develop programmes with the participation of the IOC and the newly founded Olympic Refugee Foundation, which will contribute to the relief of the impact of the crisis on both refugees and local communities.”
An emergency fund for refugee-focused programmes
In September 2015, in the spirit of sport doing its part to address the refugee crisis, particularly poignant in Europe at that time and, in parallel to the already existing IOC programmes lending support to refugees, the IOC, in collaboration with Olympic Solidarity, decided to establish a USD 2 million fund to encourage NOCs, in collaboration with local partners already active in this field, to promote integration through sports and other activities, with a view to improving the lives of refugees.
This initiative has drawn much interest from NOCs, which have applied in large numbers, mainly in Europe, and implemented various activities that have, in a general climate of growing hostility towards refugees, directly contributed to promoting tolerance and understanding through sport.
Amongst them, the NOCs of Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands have developed, with local partners, programmes of sports activities for refugees implemented through local sports clubs. These programmes have had a massive impact, as shown by the moving testimonials both of beneficiaries and volunteers involved in the project in the Netherlands. In Austria, the NOC has developed sports projects and programmes in refugee camps and homes through five of its Olympic Centres across the country. In addition to having helped the municipality of Lesvos to refurbish the local football stadium, the NOC of Greece has also set up four basketball courts within Elaionas, the biggest refugee camp in the heart of Athens. Other NOCs, such as Iraq and Slovenia, have used the fund to provide immediate humanitarian assistance.
Through the momentum created by this solidarity effort, many networks and connections have been created, and these continue to generate positive initiatives and outcomes.