Campriani wants Taking Refuge influence to continue

The Italian shooter sees the project as an opportunity for his trainees to take inspiration and influence the community beyond Tokyo 2020.

By Naveen Peter

For multiple Olympic gold medallist Niccolo Campriani, the journey that his refuge charges have undergone - as documented in Olympic Channel's Taking Refuge: Target Tokyo 2020 series - goes beyond the Olympics next year.

Campriani brought together a group of refugees to see if any of them had what it takes to qualify for Tokyo 2020 in the air rifle shooting event.

Using mental and physical skills honed over years as a professional athlete, Campriani - with help from others like Abhinav Bindra - coaches and mentors Mahdi, Khaoula and Luna on a journey of learning, rediscovery and a route to inner peace through the unifying power of sport. 

The Italian shooting great wants his shooters to take inspiration from the journey and impact lives in a positive manner going ahead.

Speaking at a virtual media briefing at the premiere of the Olympic Channel series, Niccolo Campriani said that the project has been a process to integrate with the system.

“From my point of view, there will be life after Tokyo 2020. The last thing I want is for them to focus a hundred per cent on the sport,” he said.

“That’s not how I lived my sports career. I was a student-athlete for the 13 years of my 16-year-long career. It’s always been about putting sports in the context of life.

“This is a beautiful excuse to do this journey together, to find an identity – for them as refugees trying to integrate into Switzerland and for me as an Olympian trying to integrate as a former athlete.”

Elaborating on what went into finalising on the three novices, the 32-year-old said that it was all about finding people who were clear about why they wanted to get into the project. And for the Italian, it went beyond ‘I want to go to the Olympics’.

“I was looking for somebody who was very clear in terms of the purpose of the project. Of course, the competitive fire is important, but it was about sending a message,” he explained.  

For me, instead of pitching the idea, it was about listening to them. I think, for me, it was very important that we were very much aligned on the objective from the beginning.” 

Means to an end for refugee shooters

Speaking about his trainees, Niccolo Campriani said: “For Khaoula it’s an opportunity to set an example for her son to, one day, be proud of her. For Mahdi, it’s to send a message to the world and the refugee community. 

“It’s a means to an end. You will see this more in the series (Taking Refuge).”

The journey so far, for the Italian, has been filled with its own unique challenges.

What started as a hunt to find a male and female shooter for a limited pool of refugees in Lausanne, Switzerland soon saw Niccolo Campriani expand his plans to include a third shooter.

So much so that he had to recall the rifle he had donated to the Olympic museum for the shooters to train with. 

And while Mahdi, one of the promising talents that Campriani spotted, had his troubles travelling overseas, Khaoula and Luna have given births in the past few months expanding the ‘Taking Refuge’ family.

“Mahdi was here in Switzerland but he wasn’t a fully recognised refugee nor did he have an ID from his Afghani origins. He was in a bit of limbo. So we had to start from scratch,” explained Niccolo Campriani detailing their journey so far.

“First, we had to look for a relative from his father’s side in Afghanistan. Once we got that we had to apply for an Afghani passport here in Geneva. And then had to rush him to Italy for his first competition.

We got his passport a day before the competition. It’s been an incredible journey and I have learnt a lot. If this is to be the legacy of the project, then it’s a big achievement.

“When it comes to the girls. We were a little bit concerned about Khaoula and the baby, that’s why we had a back-up in Luna. We didn’t think that the back-up would have a baby herself (chuckles), but that happened.

“It’s a very beautiful excuse to not be involved in the project. But the postponement of the Games really gives an opportunity for Luna to come and qualify as well.”

The series is now available on Olympic Channel.