Introducing Sanda Aldass, the Olympic hopeful refugee judoka juggling sport and motherhood

Syrian-born Aldass is one of the IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holders. The mother of three has a dream: getting a spot for Tokyo 2020.
By ZK Goh

(Top photo credit: International Judo Federation / Sabau Gabriela)

Just like so many athletes on the IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship scheme, Sanda Aldass has sport to thank for helping her survive, first in her war-torn country then later when settling in to her host community.

The Syrian-born judoka, who fled to the Netherlands six years ago, has relied on her sport to keep her strong – not just physically but mentally too – through her difficult transition from the Middle East to Europe.

"If I had sat doing nothing, I would have gone crazy," she told Olympic.org last year.

Now living just outside Amsterdam with her husband and three children – two of whom were born after she settled in the Netherlands – Aldass has an eye on making the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021.

Aldass decided to escape Damascus and Syria's civil war in 2015, leaving her husband Fadi Darwish, who is also her coach, behind with their young son.

However, upon arrival in the Netherlands, she spent nine months in a refugee camp, during which she spent six months separated from her family.

"Running around and doing some exercises filled up my time and also kept me in good mental health," she said.

"I knew eventually they would come and that we would have a good place to live in. That let me cool down a little bit."

After they finally moved in to their new home, Aldass was forced to stop judo again – she was pregnant with her second child. In the meantime, Darwish set about trying to be recognised as a coach.

Since then, Aldass and Darwish have welcomed a third child, while Darwish has received his coaching credentials in the Netherlands after passing the required language and other hurdles.

The International Judo Federation invited the pair into their refugee athlete programme in 2019, with Aldass competing as an IJF Refugee Team judoka at that year's World Championships.

She has also since represented the IJF Refugee Team at Grand Slam events as she looks ahead towards a potential Olympic Games spot.

All this while balancing the challenges of motherhood.

"My kids are like, ‘Mum, you have to go to the Olympics’," she said. "The goal for the whole family is reaching the Olympics.

"It's just a dream now, out there it would be a dream coming true.

"We will see. I am not thinking too far ahead."