Ibrahim Al Hussein will represent the world's refugees at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games (Photo: UNHCR/Yorgos Kyvernitis)
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has announced the two refugee and asylee athletes who will compete in an independent team at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Syrian-born swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein and Shahrad Nasajpour, an Iranian discuss thrower living in the USA, will form the Independent Paralympic Athletes (IPA) team in Brazil.
Although athletes have previously competed as independents at the Paralympic Games, this will be the first time that those with refugee and asylee status will receive special recognition in a dedicated team guided by a chef de mission, coaches and support staff.
It follows the participation of an unprecedented IOC-sponsored refugee team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Al Hussein, 27, was thrust into the spotlight during the Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay, when he carried the torch in Athens, Greece, where he is currently living and training with the help of the Hellenic Paralympic Committee. He will compete in the 50m and 100m freestyle S10 (provisional) as a leg amputee in Rio.
Al-Hussein (R) receives the Olympic flame from the head of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Spyros Capralos, at the Elaionas refugee camp on April 26 (Photo Getty Images/Milos Bicanski)
Al Hussein was a promising sportsman who dreamed of competing at the Olympic Games. But his chance seemed to have been lost in 2013 when he was severely injured during the Syrian War. Having gone to the aid of an injured friend, part of Al Hussein's leg was blown off by an explosion caused by a rocket strike.
After carrying the Rio 2016 Olympic Torch, Al Hussein said competing at the Paralympic Games would be a “beautiful opportunity” and now it seems his dream has become reality.
“I have been dreaming of this for 22 years," he said. "I thought my dream had gone when I lost my leg but now it is back for real. I can’t believe I am going to Rio. I want to send a message to all those injured that they too can achieve their dreams.”
Al Hussein trains at a swimming club in Athens (Photo: UNHCR/Archilleas Zavallis)
Nasajpour will compete in the men’s discus, F37 class, and the IPC has agreed to respect the athlete’s request for confidentiality in terms of his personal circumstances.
The duo will be supported by chef de mission Tony Sainsbury, who has filled the same role fives times for the British Paralympic team, along with team official Ramon Boixadera, a former manager at London 2012’s Paralympic Village, and swimming coach Eleni Kokkinou.
“These athletes will help to raise awareness of the plight of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who make difficult decisions and journeys, often with impairments,” said Sainsbury. “They will help to drive social inclusion and spread the Paralympic values of courage, determination, inspiration and equality around the world.”
The IPA team will march first at the opening ceremony on 7 September. They will stay in the Paralympic Village, alongside more than 4,350 athletes from 165 countries. For official presentations, such as medal and village welcome ceremonies, the Paralympic anthem will be played.
After Rio 2016, support will be provided by the IPC’s development arm, the Agitos Foundation, to help IPA team members towards competition in the 2017 world championships in their respective sports, and to furthering opportunities for more refugee and asylees to take part in para-sport.