During a visit to Geneva today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the first-ever Olympic refugee team to compete in the international event, and received the Olympic Cup Award on behalf of the UN.
“This year, the International Olympic Committee has taken the extraordinary step of including a refugee team,” Mr. Ban announced at an event in Geneva entitled “Celebrating the Olympic Spirit” ahead of the Rio games which begin in August.
“For the first time in history, talented athletes who have been forced to flee their homes will get a chance to chase gold. Their fellow refugees will see outstanding contenders who give hope to all. And the world will see refugees the way they deserve to be seen: as talented, strong and inspiring people,” he declared.
Win or lose, the UN chief said, these athletes are “champions of the spirit,” and called on the world to “find lasting solutions” to support the refugee crisis.
“Refugees want homes, not tents. They want a flag that waves for their rights. And they deserve a world that gives them more than assistance; they deserve a world that is at peace. Let us all be on the team of refugees until there is no need for a refugee team at all,” he said.
The UN chief reminded those attending the event about the World Humanitarian Summit organized by the UN next month in Istanbul, Turkey. It will be followed in September by a meeting of the General Assembly on addressing large movements of migrants and refugees. He called on leaders and people to make the most of these global opportunities for progress.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Ban received the Olympic Cup Award on behalf of the United Nations. This is the second time the Organization received this distinction; the first time was 17 years ago.
“I sincerely thank you for this powerful recognition of the talented, dedicated and selfless women and men of our Organization. They work around the world and they work around the clock for a better future of all the people. I accept this on their behalf with deep gratitude,” Mr. Ban told IOC President Thomas Bach.
“My Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, Mr. Wilfried Lemke, has made dedicated efforts to advance the goals of the United Nations through sport,” Mr. Ban underlined. “I thank all the United Nations bodies that are leveraging the power of sport. We are collaborating with athletes to inspire children. We are making the Games more green. We are joining forces to use this massive, global celebration of the human spirit as a reminder of our common humanity.”
On a personal note, the UN chief said seeing this flame brings him back to when he carried the torch in the relay to the London Olympics in 2012 and the Sochi Olympics in 2014. “I admit I even trained before I carried the torch – because I did not want to run out of breath with such a critical mission!” he exclaimed.
“It was an electrifying experience. The crowds were cheering. The helicopters were flying overheard. There was noise but passion and cheer. I carried the torch, like so many others, for the dream of the Olympic Truce,” he added.