If not Tokyo, then ‘Tent:’ Displaced children in Syria soak in Olympic spirit

Around 120 boys from 12 different refugee camps in Idlib, Syria’s last major rebel bastion, participated in several events modelled on the Games in what they call the ‘Tent Olympics’

Representative photo: iStock

On Saturday, the day Tokyo extinguished the flame of Olympics 2020 in a grand closing ceremony, an enthusiastic bunch of children at a Syrian refugee camp in Idlib, Syria’s last major rebel bastion, flagged off their own version of the Games – fondly named ‘Tent Olympics’ after the tent settlements they have been living in for years.

According to AFP, the event organized for children victimised by forced migration, was an attempt to get the global community tune in into the issues plaguing millions of refugees across similar camps. The event was participated by 120 boys from 12 different camps for displaced Syrians in the town of Foua in Idlib.

Just like players wear the jersey of their country at the Games, each participant wore the colour of the camp he belonged to.

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From sprinting to shooting a javelin to showing their prowess of Karate katas, the organisers had chalked out a variety of events for the children to prove their mettle in. Some of the popular events were javelin throw, discus throw, high jump, hurdles, gymnastics, martial arts, volleyball, badminton, football, running and mock horse-racing.

Aerial views of the event shot by AFP shows the game arena spread along the empty stretch of land adjoining the cluster of tents forming the refugee camp. On one side is etched an uneven football field, seemingly with chalk powder, while another end hosts the other events. Other pictures show elated winners standing on the podium and flashing their medals to camerapersons present at the spot.

Twelve-year-old Walid Mohammed al-Hassan who the second place in the long jump told AFP that he was elated to represent his camp in the event and win a medal too.

“We had such fun,” he said.

Event’s organiser Ibrahim Sarmini said the chief aim of the Tent Olympics was to give the children some hope and to draw the attention of the international community to the plight of refugees who are debarred from living a normal life.

He said the event was meant “to introduce the kids to different kinds of sports that we, as a society, hadn’t really tried before”.

“The main aim was to shine a light on the camp residents, children and adults, who are living a very tough life,” the representative of Syrian Charity Benefits told AFP.

Syrian athletes competed in the Tokyo Olympics in two teams – six on the national team representing the Damascus government, and nine on the international Olympic Refugee Team.

Of them, only Man Asaad won a bronze medal in weightlifting for the country.

“It’s sad to see young Syrians taking part as refugees,” Sarmini told AFP.

“But it’s great for us that there are real free heroes to represent the people here in northwest Syria at the Olympics,” he said.

According to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the decade-old war in Syria has led to the death of over half-a-million people.

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Almost two-thirds of the three million population in Idlib region are Syrians displaced from other parts of the country over the past 10 years. The refugees including children who have lost their homes and live in tents are solely dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.

According UNICEF, Syria in 2019 had almost 6.6 million (47 per cent of world’s child refugees) child refugees, and along with Afghanistan accounted for nearly half of all child refugees in the world.