Defeating the odds: Meet IOC Refugee Olympic Team hopeful Wael Shueb

The IOC Refugee Athlete Scholar found a new life through karate, and now hopes to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021.
By Andrew Binner

Karate has transformed Syrian refugee Wael Shueb from a lost soul to a man with a purpose.

The 33-year-old used to work in a textile factory and as a part-time martial arts coach in his native Damascus.

But in 2015, with war looming, he felt he had no other choice than to flee the city for his own safety.

After a four-week odyssey that included a treacherous boat journey to Turkey and travelling through Macedonia on bike, he re-settled in Germany.

Sheub integrated into his new community by learning German and teaching karate to children and adults.

Karate helped him integrate into his new life in Europe. The non-contact style of karate called ‘kata’ will be making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, and in the spring of 2018 Shueb received the news that he was eligible for an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship that supports him for his training.

For him, sport is the key to successful integration: "Sport opens the doors. Sport speaks all languages. Sport is integration world champion," he said.

Shueb is currently one of the "Top Ten" in his discipline in Germany. At the German championship in Hamburg at the beginning in 2020, which was the last major event before the coronavirus pandemic, he finished tenth in the individual competition.

But while the 2009 Syrian national champion is happy and grateful for his new life, his thoughts constantly drift to family and friends back home.

Shueb lost his brother-in-law to the war, and sometimes has to wait days to receive answers from messages to his sister, who also fled the city with her five children.

To compound matters, the medical infrastructure in his homeland is ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is very difficult for them. Unfortunately, I can hardly do anything for them,” he told newsy today.

The athlete wants to compete at Tokyo 2020, and provide hope to his beloved, as well as all refugees around the world.

“I try to give them strength,” he says, “by showing what you can achieve as a refugee."