Refugee Athletes are stronger together in judo's curtain-closing mixed team event

The six-strong judoka team took part in judo's final showpiece event on Saturday, representing refugees everywhere.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The Olympic Games are about much more than medals.

One of the most uplifting stories oat Tokyo 2020 so far has been the participation of the IOC Refugee Athlete Team.

29 athletes have taken part under the neutral flag of the Refugee Team at Tokyo 2020, each one telling a powerful story of hope and resilience, making it to the pinnacle of sport against all odds.

Like Nigara Shaheen who escaped oppression in Iran and now speaks up for women's rights despite the threats on her life, or Popole Misenga who lost his family to civil war in the Congo Basin and still competed at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, and Sanda Aldass, the refugee mother of three who refused to give up on her dreams.

Today all six judoka had a chance to make a stand for refugee solidarity together, competing side-by-side on the sacred mats of the Nippon Budokan in the mixed team event which made its Olympic debut.

Javad Mahjoub steps up

Made up of people scattered all over the globe, the IOC Refugee Athletes Team came together as one to stand on a level playing field in Tokyo, proving that a lot of things are possible in sport.

As the refugee team lined up for the morning judo session there was a joy in being together with other people who shared a similar story to yours.

But they were up against a very strong-looking German six.

First up on the mat was refugee judoka Javad Mahjoub who was born in Iran but sought refuge in Canada. He got off to a great start yesterday in his +100kg category opener defeating Germany's Johannes Frey, and today was the rematch in the judo team competition.

But Frey managed to turn the tables on Saturday morning, defeating Mahjoub by ippon after an impressive seoi-otoshi.

Johannes Frey of Team Germany and Javad Mahjoub of Refugee Olympic Team get to grips at Nippon Budokan on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Sanda Aldass and Ahmad Alikaj take the floor

Next up was Sanda Aldass whose story is an inspiration to women and mothers everywhere, and she faced Theresa Stoll, 2018 European champion and 2021 World bronze medallist.

Stoll finished ninth overall in the singles in Tokyo and has been in world-beating form, catching Aldass with an o-soto-gari throw after 36 seconds.

Ahmad Alikaj took the stage next for the refugee team who were encouraging each other and keeping it positive.

Alikaj was born in Aleppo but fled from Syria in fear for his life, starting from zero in Germany. Despite all that, he made his debut in judo at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

He faced Igor Wandke in the -73kg on Saturday morning in the team event, but the German managed to pull off a sumi-gaeshi in the last second of the four minute contest to win by ippon.

Muna Dahouk fights in judo mixed team event

Judo runs deep for Muna Dahouk.

Born in Damascus, her father was a sensei and she took up the sport with her older sister Oula.

When the war broke out and they lost their father Muna and Oula escaped for the Netherlands

"After the death of our father we decided to leave. We could not live in Syria. It was too dangerous," Muna told Olympics.com.

She made her Olympic debut on Tuesday 27 July, how proud her father would have been to see her suit up at judo's spiritual home.

In the mixed team event today, Dahouk had another chance to fly the refugee flag and took on the German fighter Martyna Trajdos.

Doing her best to defend against a dangerous opponent, Dahouk was punished with a shido, then before the minute-and-a-half mark Trajdos pounced, pinning Dahouk in a kesa-gatame hold to win by ippon.

With Germany 4-0 ahead the tie was all over, meaning that Popole Misenga and Nigara Shaheen didn't get to fight, but the refugee team came together and congratulated the winners, then each other, embodying the Olympic values of friendship, respect, and excellence.

After congratulating the German team they had a moment of solidarity together, a circle of hope, a beacon of light for refugees all over the world who have the audacity to dream.