Refugee Olympic Team hopeful Wael Fawaz Al-Farraj is Syria’s answer to Bruce Lee

The IOC Refugee Athlete Scholar took one year to become a taekwondo black belt, and hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
By Andrew Binner

It’s amazing where a little curiosity can take you.

In April 2016, Syrian refugee Wael Fawaz Al-Farraj was walking around his home at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan when he saw Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation staff setting up for an exhibition.

The 13-year-old asked to help move the mats, enquired what they were for, and the next day he registered as one of the first academy members.

A year later, he became the first trainee to be awarded a black belt.

His obvious talent attracted the attention of the Jordan Olympic Committee, who successfully applied for an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship on the young athlete’s behalf.

Now aged 19, Al-Farraj is targeting the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, as part of the second IOC Refugee Olympic Team.

“My dream is to participate in the Olympic Games and I will train very much until I reach this goal," the Olympic hopeful told the Korea Times.

"I want to have my name in front of the world. It will be a good thing for all the refugees if I can reach the Olympic Games and I will support all refugees.”

Inspired by Bruce Lee

Despite growing up amid the chaos of war-torn Syria, Al-Farraj found practical enjoyment in martial arts films.

“I used to watch Bruce Lee’s movies,” he told care.org.

“That got me eager to do Kung Fu like him. I started trying all kinds of martial sports, at least to defend myself. I practiced fitness, bodybuilding, and all sorts of things. I did not know taekwondo at all.”

The enthusiastic trainee enjoyed his first taste of the sport at the Azraq camp, but his real development started with the arrival of veteran trainer and international judge Asef Sabah.

“When Coach Asef came to the camp, I could see happiness on his face. Coach Asef did not make us feel like he was there just to train and leave. He made me feel like he was a family member,” he continued. 

Like Brue Lee’s character in Tang Lung in Way of the Dragon, Sabah nurtured his apprentice and took great enjoyment in seeing the group of refugees grow in confidence.

“When I trained the Syrian children, I could see how their spirits grew. It was a great opportunity indeed,” Sabah said.

“The first student I met was Wael. We could relate somehow and felt chemistry between us. He had the same ideas and thoughts that I have.”

Dreaming of a better future


While making the Olympics is Al-Farraj’s main short-term goal, his hopes extend far beyond that of individual sporting glory.

During his free-time, the Syrian teaches taekwondo to other children living in the camp, and one day hopes to become an official instructor himself.

“I dream to make my family have a comfortable life,” he said.

“I dream to see Syria done with the conflicts, and peaceful once again.”

READ: Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020 shortlist announced