‘RUN – The Athlete Refugee Team Story’, shares the incredible and inspirational story of the Athlete Refugee Team (ART), from its formal beginnings in early 2017 through the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year that halted, albeit temporarily, their seemingly impossible journey towards the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Three years in the making and released in 2020, the feature-length documentary (93 minutes) by director Richard Bullock begins with an introduction to some of the refugee athletes selected to compete on the inaugural Refugee Olympic Team in Rio, who train at the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation training camp in Ngong, Kenya.
We meet Loroupe, a pioneer in women’s distance running renowned now as much for her community development and peace-making efforts as for her achievements in sport, who approached World Athletics and the IOC with the refugee team concept and who helped hand-pick those athletes from trials competitions at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northeast Kenya.
And, we follow the athletes’ journey after that ground-breaking and symbolic debut on the world stage at the Rio Games when the programme shifted its focus to longer term goals as it expands to include refugees based in other areas.
But like the best documentaries, the film is at its finest when it shares personal moments that illustrate the challenges and the difficult choices the athletes face, both in and out of training and competition and when showing the importance the athletes place on representing the faceless millions around the world that are currently displaced in unprecendented numbers.
In its annual Global Trends report issued earlier this week, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, reported that nearly 82.4 million people were living displaced from their homes at the end of 2020, a further four per cent increase on top of the already record-high 79.5 million at the end of 2019. Last year marked the ninth straight year of uninterrupted rise in forced displacement worldwide and witnessed a doubling of the number of displaced persons in the world since 2011, when the total was just under 40 million.
When the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games will finally be staged later this summer, the team’s participation – seven were ultimately chosen to compete in athletics – will once again became a source of inspiration for those tens of millions while their stories will resonate with millions more.
“We try to pass a message through sport for the people to recognise that the refugee, that whatever any human being can do, that refugees can also do,” says Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, who will make her second Olympic appearance in Tokyo. “Once they are given the chance.”
Bob Ramsak for World Athletics