The Olympics, in theory, are a place where politics remain outside the stadium, where athletes compete for their country without the baggage of parochial grievances. It's a nice theory. The reality is that political and military disputes that dot the entire planet often sweep up innocent athletes in their tornado, and the International Olympic Committee can express views as partisan as any nation. But on occasion, politics can prove a net positive, as the IOC is demonstrating with the creation of a team entirely composed of refugees from war-torn and economically ravaged countries.
The refugee team will march and compete under the Olympic flag, and includes 10 athletes: five from South Sudan, two from Syria, two from Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Ethiopia. The team will field competitors in swimming, judo, and athletics.
"These refugee athletes have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem," IOC presdient Thomas Bach said. "The invention of this refugee team is to give them a home in the Olympic village together with all the athletes around the world."
The refugee team will be housed in the Olympic Village, and will be given all the honors accorded other nations, including a spot in the Opening and Closing ceremonies. The refugee team will march in just ahead of host Brazil.
Refugees of war and economic crisis are spreading around the globe and galvanizing public opinion, often in strikingly hostile ways. The IOC has said it intends the team to serve as a visual reminder that refugees deserve the same respect accorded members of more stable nations.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.