Introducing Saeid Fazloula: The refugee canoe sprinter powering towards the Tokyo Olympics

Born in Iran, Saeid Fazloula now trains in Germany with the support of an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship and has Tokyo 2020 in his sights.
By Ken Browne

Saeid Fazloula is a canoe sprinter who trains in Karlsruhe with the support of an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship.

He was forced to flee Iran in 2015, risking it all to make his way through the Balkan route to Germany.

He arrived as an accomplished paddler: A three-time Asian runner-up while competing under the Iranian flag, but has had to fight hard on his journey to being selected as part of the second IOC Refugee Olympic Team, for the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

With a history of achievement under the Iran flag, his official status was complicated, and Fazloula has had to campaign for years to gain the right to represent refugees at the Tokyo Olympics.

The International Canoe Federation even had to change its regulations, as prior to his situation no rules existed on how athletes who have had to leave their country for political or religious reasons could be allowed to take part in events.

While Fazloula may have left his family behind in Iran, he found a new one at the Rheinbrüder Karlsruhe canoe and kayak club, and together they have cut a path that made competing at Tokyo 2020 a possibility. In June 2021, Fazloula was named as part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for the Games.

Fazloula found a lot of love in Germany, a tight group of friends, supporters, coaches, and officials who were willing to put in the time and energy to help him chase his dream.

Without the help of his coach, mentor, and father figure Detlef Hofmann along with many others, the 28-year-old kayak specialist wouldn’t have been in contention for an Olympic spot.

Their case included testimony that the Iranian-born athlete is ‘a role model for successful community integration,’ as reported on the International Canoe Federation’s official website.

When word came through that Saeid had been granted one of the IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarships on Refugee Day in June 2019 there was delight and relief all round, not least with the athlete himself.

"I feel relieved. It's been a long, hard road. So many people fought with and for me. I would like to thank you all today,” the 28-year-old said.

Of course, getting the scholarship didn't guarantee a place on the final Refugee Team at Tokyo 2020 in summer 2021. Fazloula had to work harder than ever in training every single day to ensure his selection.

"You can be so successful when you get so much love from other people," he told German outlet Deutschlandfunk.