Ahead of the opening of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo on Tuesday, Alphonso Davies, footballer for German league champions Bayern Munich and Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), has offered words of encouragement for what he called “the world’s most courageous sports team”.
Mr. Davies reminded the six members of the Refugee Paralympic Team that even as they prepare to enter the global spotlight, they are not alone.
‘The world is behind you’
The team – five men and one woman – includes two athletes who were born in Syria: swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein and Anas Al Khalifa, a canoeist. Alia Issa, the first woman to compete as a member of the team, was born in Greece to Syrian refugee parents. She will compete in club throw, a discipline for athletes not strong enough to hold a javelin, shot put or discus.
The other members are Parfait Hakizimana, a taekwondo fighter from Burundi; swimmer Abbas Karimi from Afghanistan, and Shahrad Nasajpour, a discus thrower born in Iran.
“Please know this: as you dive into the water, as you prepare to throw, as you step into the arena, know that you are not alone,” said Mr. Davies in a note published on Monday.
“The world is behind you, including 82 million displaced people, 12 million of whom are living with a disability.”
Although he is a left-back for FC Bayern Munich, and Canada Men’s National Football Team, Mr. Davies knows first-hand what it means to be forced to flee your homeland.
He was born in a refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents who had escaped the country’s bloody civil war. The family resettled in Canada when he was five, and at 15, Mr. Davies began playing professional football. A year later he debuted on the men’s national team as the youngest player ever.
“Not everyone understands the journey you have been on. But I do and that’s an important part of what made me who I am,” he wrote.
“I’ve read your stories and learnt about the journeys you have all been through. You are the most courageous sports team in the world right now.”
Hard work pays off
The top athlete spoke of the difficulties refugees face, something which many people do not understand, such as being displaced during a global pandemic.
He also mentioned how tough it is to be alone, thousands of miles from family, when you need them most. And even tougher still if you have a disability.
“But although your path has been hard you’ve never given up,” he told the team. “You have found a way to not only practice sport but to perform at the highest levels. All those years of dreaming to be on the big stage, all those lung-busting sessions in the gym, that hard work and sheer determination has brought you to this moment, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”
Power to inspire
Mr. Davies also highlighted something he understands about sports, namely the power it has to change lives. The Refugee Paralympic Team members are all role models now, he added, with the power to inspire others.
“Make no mistake, what you are about to do in Tokyo will change people’s lives,” he stated. “There are going to be young people who will take up sport because of you. There will be refugees who, through watching you succeed, will believe they can too. And you know what, those people are the next nurses, teachers and scientists. That’s change starting with sport.”
Mr. Davies vowed that he will be joining the rest of the world in watching the team as they lead out athletes from 160 nations during the opening ceremony for what he called the most important Paralympic Games in history.
“So, go out and do your thing. Do it like you’ve never done it before. Give it 100 per cent,” he said. “Don’t focus too much on the rewards and go out there with a smile on your face, knowing you worked hard to be there. That’s when you’ll be at your best. And welcome to the show – you belong here.”