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Refugee Team Of 29 Athletes Picked For Tokyo Olympics

People wearing face masks pose for photographs next to Olympic Rings on March 24, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Although an official decision is yet to be announced, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound has said the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be postponed by one year because of the Covid-19 coronavirus after the chairman of the British Olympic Association said Great Britain would be unlikely to send a team to Tokyo this summer while Australia and Canada also said they will not compete as the global Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic that has so far seen over 380,000 infections around the world forces countries to take drastic measures to protect their populations. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The refugee team for the Tokyo Olympics has 29 athletes competing in 12 sports, including a medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games who left Iran citing institutional sexism.

The team selected by the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday was drawn from 55 athletes who fled their home countries and got scholarships to train for the games in a new home country.

Kimia Alizadeh is among them five years after she became the first Iranian women to win an Olympic medal. She took bronze in taekwondo at age 18.

Alizadeh is based in Germany after she defected from Iran and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she told reporters in Germany in January last year.

The 29 athletes — a rise from 10 in the inaugural refugee team at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics — are also originally from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela.

They will compete in swimming, athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, judo, karate, shooting, taekwondo, weightlifting, and wrestling.

“You are an integral part of our Olympic community, and we welcome you with open arms.” IOC president Thomas Bach told the athletes when announcing their selection, adding they would “send a powerful message of solidarity, resilience and hope to the world.”

The team will be managed in Tokyo by officials from the IOC and the United Nations’ Geneva-based refugee agency, the UNHCR.

“Surviving war, persecution and the anxiety of exile already makes them extraordinary people,” UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi said in a statement, “but the fact that they now also excel as athletes on the world stage fills me with immense pride.”

The refugee athletes will compete against 206 national teams with identifier EOR, for the French acronym of the team name. The Tokyo Olympics are from July 23-Aug. 8.

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