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Salvation Army supports team of refugee competitors at Olympics

Salvation Army supports team of refugee competitors at Olympics

Salvation Army supports team of refugee competitors at Olympics

5 August 2016

Swimmer Yusra Mardini, from Syria, will compete in the 2016 Games as part of the Refugee Olympic Athetes (ROA) team. Photo: IOC Media.

By Anne Halliday and International Headquarters

As the 2016 Olympic Games open in Rio de Janeiro tonight, The Salvation Army is unashamedly backing one team. 

The International Olympic Committee's inclusion of a team of refugees from Africa and the Middle East has been endorsed by the The Salvation Army, which is calling for people everywhere to support them. The team, made up of athletes who have had to flee their country due to conflict and persecution, will compete together under the Olympic flag as ROA (Refugee Olympic Athletes). 

At a time when more than 65 million people are displaced – many of them children – the participation of a ROA team sends a powerful signal of hope to refugees around the world. The initiative has been developed by UNICEF and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, in partnership with many other agencies.

Lieut-Colonel Dean Pallant, Director of The Salvation Army’s International Social Justice Commission, which liaises with the UN in New York, explains: “The Salvation Army is deeply concerned that millions and millions of people are today displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution. This global tragedy is not receiving enough attention. Solutions are needed now. Amid the misery and suffering, the participation of 10 world-class refugee athletes in the Rio 2016 Olympics is a reminder that refugees are people with abilities, skills and God-given talents.” 

Some of the Refugee Olympic Athletes team, which will compete in Rio, meet with the IOC president Thomas Bach.

He continues: “The International Social Justice Commission encourages everyone to support the all-refugee team as a small sign of our support for all the women, men, girls and boys who are refugees and asylum seekers.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 Salvation Army volunteers are gathering in Rio to undertake mission activities in venues across the city. With international team members representing countries as far afield as Australia, Iceland and Canada, sport will be the “common language” as the life-changing message of the Gospel is taken to the favelas. 

Vânia Quintão is a Salvationist from Niterói who is keen to be participating in August’s mission. She was part of similar outreach campaigns at the Pan American Games in 2007 and at a number of Rio’s famous carnivals. “I am looking forward to the arrival of the Olympic Games and being part of this great team of volunteers,” she says. “I believe [this] is a strategic way … to fulfil our mission as The Salvation Army.”

Elisa Moura, also from Niterói, agrees. “To the vendors, people coming in and out of sports events, and the street people we can show Jesus.”

Captain Ionara Tebas is the corps officer and manager at The Salvation Army’s church and community centre in Méier, which has established itself well in the neighbourhood. “It’s a case of visiting the people who might need our help,” she explains. “We go to them and get to know the whole family.” Some of the families Captain Tebas is in contact with have significant needs; alcohol and drug dependency is widespread, with a serious knock-on effect on family income.

As well as meeting practical and spiritual needs, The Salvation Army’s Rio 2016 mission seeks to extend some of the fun and enjoyment of the sporting spectacle to these communities. Musical performances, dance events and even treasure hunts are planned to ensure that entire families can participate.

 

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