Ten top athletes, forced by conflict and persecution to flee their homes, are being given a chance to compete in the 2016 Rio Games in Brazil. At a time when more than 65 million people are displaced – many of them children – the participation of a Refugee Olympic 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.
Lt-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."
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.
- More information about The Salvation Army's Rio 2016 sports ministry and outreach can be found at http://sar.my/rio2016 and by using the #SArio2016 hashtag across social media
- Details about Team Refugees, including videos and more information about UNHCR and UNICEF can be found at http://sar.my/otr
- The Salvation Army continues to respond to the ongoing refugee situation in Europe – see http://sar.my/europerefugees for information.