Farid Walizadeh: “With every darkness there’s a light.”

On the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, Farid Walizadeh, who is hoping to compete on the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the rescheduled Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, reveals how we can be resilient in the face of uncertainty, and find hope when everything seems lost.

Picture by UNHCR GWA

These are uncertain times. As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe, an increasing number of people are staying at home and dealing with the anxiety and doubt stemming not only from health concerns, but also from the postponement of their regular activities.

One man who has lived in uncertainty for a large part of his life is 22-year-old boxer Farid Walizadeh, one of 48 IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holders who will receive funding for an additional year as they attempt to qualify for the rescheduled Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Born in Afghanistan, Farid was separated from his family when he was just seven years old, and left the war-torn country on foot. He travelled stateless over the next few years through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, spending time in prison and an orphanage before reaching the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Centre in Istanbul, where he first learned to box.

Farid eventually found refuge in Portugal in 2012 and now lives in Lisbon, where he studies architecture and follows an intense training schedule under the supervision of his coach, Paulo Seco. On the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP), Farid spoke to olympic.org about his long and perilous journey; the power of sport in bringing focus and hope during difficult times; and how important it is to #StayStrong and #BeActive as the world gets to grips with COVID-19.

Farid UNHCR Refugee Olympic team
Picture by UNHCR GWA

How have you dealt with uncertainty throughout your life?

“When I was nine years old, I was in a prison for travelling in an illegal way to Europe – and life was way harder. But even then, as a child, I was trying to see the positive sides of that. I was drawing and painting to try to pass the time, because with every darkness there’s a light. Every day the night comes, but the next day the light will come back.

“If you look at the negative side of the problems, you get more sad and more stressed. But there’s always a good side to the problems, which you may not be able to see at the time. I approach it like that, and then the problem becomes easier to deal with.”

What role has sport played in your life and personal development?

“Sport actually changed my life. Because I had nothing, and I didn’t even have a dream. In my place as a refugee, when you are on a long journey and you are always in the refugee sanctuaries, the education sanctuaries and in prison without having anything, you cannot even dream – because you need courage to dream.

“But when I started sport, first I started to forget my trauma. Then, I started to learn how to deal with my trauma and stress. And then I started to see that I could make sport my life – and each day my dream became bigger. And today, I want to go to the Olympic Games, which are the biggest sports event in the world.

“Sport gave me the hope, and the power – mentally and physically – to dream, and to try again. I know that I’m going to fall down a lot of times, but I am going to stand up once again because of the power of my dream.”

Picture by Diana Tinoco

How has boxing helped you overcome the challenges that you have faced on your journey?

“Boxing gave me the self-confidence. Because if you don’t have confidence, you can’t do anything. For example, in the past, I couldn’t even speak with people because I was still so deeply inside my trauma. I couldn’t even say my name in school, because I didn’t have that confidence.

“But with boxing, I started to gain confidence because I started to have contact with people, I started to shout, I started to give all of that negative energy out to the punchbag. And that’s why boxing has had a big role in my life, because now I have my self-confidence – and I have my dreams.”

What were your feelings and thoughts when you learned that the Olympic Games had been postponed?

“I always try to see the positive sides of problems. Maybe some athletes are sad about this, but for me it’s an opportunity to prepare one year longer, and learn some more techniques and skills.

“My gym is completely closed at the moment, so in the morning I’m doing some cardio and power training with my weights and other equipment, and in the afternoon I’m trying new techniques, and working on different strategies of boxing. No one is trying to beat each other right now, but we are all going to do our best at home with the materials that we have.”

Farid UNHCR Refugee Olympic team
Picture by Diana Tinoco

What are your future goals?

“In sport, I am going to try to do my best and I will train more. When I train hard, I see my dream come nearer. And if I do the same tomorrow, I am even closer to my dream – and that gives me my motivation. There is always hope, so I will do my best to be there in Tokyo in 2021.

“After sport, I want to finish my architecture course at Lusíada University in Lisbon. It is hard work, but I want to build from that so that I can design and create new things to replace those that have been destroyed by war in the country where I was born, and in other countries.”

What is your message for people around the world trying to deal with their new reality during the pandemic?

“I have learned that the most important thing is patience. Nothing will stay forever. You may have a problem today, and then tomorrow another problem. But they will pass – and this problem will pass too.

“During this time, I want people to see the positives of everything, and to try the things that you don’t have time to do in normal life when you have school, work or training. We can use this time for ourselves, to learn about ourselves. It’s for our health, so my message is to stay home, save yourself and save others. Be your own hero.”

Farid UNHCR Refugee Olympic team
Picture by UNHCR GWA

Join the movement like Farid and #BeActive, #StayStrong for #IDSDP2020.

Farid Walizadeh is one of the 48 refugee athlete scholarship-holders aiming to be selected as part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020. The refugee athletes, together with more than 1,600 athletes from 185 National Olympic Committees who are benefiting from the Olympic Solidarity programmes related to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, will continue to enjoy this support up to the Games which will now be celebrated from 23 July to 8 August 2021.

Visit www.olympic.org/idsdp to learn more about the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace and the IOC’s action on the ground.