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OCA breaks new ground with refugee team

22 Sep 2017
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, September 21, 2017: The Olympic Council of Asia’s 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games are a “first” in several aspects. It is the first time the event has been held in Central Asia; the first time that athletes from Oceania are competing alongside Asian athletes; and the first time an OCA event has witnessed an African Refugee Team.

Following in the footsteps of the International Olympic Committee’s historic decision to have an Olympic Refugee Team at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the OCA and government of Turkmenistan have reached out to refugees and welcomed them to the multi-sport festival as one of 65 teams.

The African Refugee Team held a press conference at the Main Media Centre in Ashgabat on Thursday led by the Chef de Mission - long-distance running legend Tegla Loroupe, Ambassador and Founder of the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation. “We are so happy and proud to be here in Ashgabat and would like to thank everyone involved for this opportunity,” said the 44-year-old Kenyan.

“I am from a conflict area myself so I am aware of the difficulties. What is very important is the pride of the person – and the athletes here can become a role model for their country.” The five refugee athletes competing in Ashgabat are all from South Sudan and took part in the Indoor Athletics competition.

They live and train in Kenya under the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation and supported by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They were selected for Ashgabat 2017 after trials at their Kenya base.

Loroupe, who also led the 10-strong Olympic Refugee Team in Rio, thanked the government of Turkmenistan, the organising committee and the Olympic Council of Asia for inviting the team to Ashgabat. Looking back on her own career, the Kenyan marathon great said she remembered competing in Europe, collecting her prize money and then going home to Kenya to witness such harsh conditions.

“It was killing my heart to see these people who had nowhere to go,” she said. Now the athletes have become symbols of hope and inspiration for refugees and displaced people around the world, and Loroupe hopes the 5th AIMAG is just the start of a long relationship with the OCA.

“Next year there is the Asian Games in Indonesia and we hope to be there,” she added. The refugee athletes competed under the Olympic Council of Asia flag at Ashgabat 2017. They were: Paulo Amotun Lokoro (1500m), Wiyual Puok Deng (400m), Gai Yang Tap (800m), Ukuk Uthoo Bul (3000m) and Yiech Pur Biel (800m). Of the five, Lokoro and Biel competed at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. 

As a United Nations Ambassador for Sport and Peace, Loroupe is leading the way in finding opportunities for refugees to participate in international sporting events.
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