Refugees get active and embrace unique school sports day

The New Zealand Olympic Committee organised an Olympic Refugee Sports Day for 300 young people from a refugee background. The youngsters tried out nine Olympic sports and mingled with New Zealand Olympians.

Refugees get active and embrace unique school sports day Getty Images

Barbara Kendall, a five-time Olympic boardsailer, led the brigade of Olympians. She explains: “The purpose of this day was for people to realise that the Olympic Movement is more than just a big mega sporting event; it’s about making the world a better place through sport. Sport and recreation have a significant positive impact on refugees’ well-being and development.”

Barbara is now the New Zealand Olympic Committee’s Chef de Mission for the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. Also present were retired New Zealand hockey stars Emily Gaddam (formerly Emily Naylor) and Pippa Hayward, judoka Tim Slyfield, cyclist Myron Simpson, triathlete Evelyn Williamson, and Chantal Brunner, a sprinter and long jumper. Rob Page, New Zealand Olympic Committee Education Manager, organised the day and tells the IOC just how he did it.

It’s about making the world a better place through sport. Barbara Kendall New Zealand

“We convinced schools with refugee students that an Olympic Sports Day would be a great thing to do. Refugee Day is on 20 June and Olympic Day is on 23 June, so there’s a synergy, and we held our day on Tuesday 19 June. We contacted sporting bodies outlining the concept – refugee students having a go at Olympic sports; learning, moving, discovering. We wanted to capture new students who would play these sports at school and join clubs.”

He added: “We also wanted to find out if there are athletes from a refugee background who the New Zealand Olympic Committee can support through a mentor or a scholarship. We’re working with the refugee agencies to identify them.”

Refugees get active and embrace unique school sports day Getty Images

Page explained that almost all the refugees at secondary schools in Auckland attended. “Refugee students are often not able to find the funds to play sport, so we put in an application to Olympic Solidarity, who essentially funded the day. The students tried judo, badminton, volleyball, karate, basketball, golf, hockey, football and fencing. We stayed away from sports like rugby, even though it’s our national sport, as we wanted the kids to try sports they otherwise might not get a chance to, and which are not often taught in school.”

The biggest worry of the day according to Page was… the weather. “Although we had a big indoor venue, we needed to run the hockey, football and golf outside and it’s the middle of winter here in New Zealand. It rained heavily until 9 o’clock then suddenly, miraculously, the clouds cleared and it was a bright sunny day.”

“We had a great opening ceremony with a music and dance presentation from the refugee students, who had done a lot of work choreographing an Olympic-themed show with flags. It was quite spectacular. The event was opened by Golriz Ghahraman, who is the first refugee member of parliament in New Zealand.”

Refugees get active and embrace unique school sports day Getty Images

“Sport and recreation students from local universities gave up their time to come and lead each group and the students got to try most of the sports on the day. We’ve lit a candle for other regions to run their own event.”

A personal memory and highlight of the day for the organiser: “I couldn’t get over how enthusiastic the kids were. They were all mixed together with kids from other schools. One of the points of the day was to encourage friendship. The kids had done a lot of research on the Olympians who were coming. They were tickled pink to work with them. The Olympians all said how much they enjoyed it and what a great event it was. My main memory is of lots of smiles on kids’ faces.”

Speaking of the day’s events, Younis Ahmat Adballah, a refugee from Sudan, said: “I’ve enjoyed seeing all the different cultures and I’ve met some really great people. Basketball, soccer and golf were the best sports I tried today. Hopefully I’ll get to keep playing them.”

Karoo Shakari, who arrived from Iraq, added: “Today is great – meeting new friends and new people. So far I’ve enjoyed all of it. Basketball, fencing… I haven’t tried that before. Everything I tried was really fun. Sport is everything to me.”

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