The International Paralympic Committee said Wednesday it plans to create a team of up to six refugee athletes to take part in the Tokyo Paralympics next summer in an effort to raise awareness of the plight of internationally displaced athletes.
The Refugee Paralympic Team will be led by Chef de Mission Ileana Rodriguez of the United States, who herself is a former refugee and a London 2012 Paralympian, the IPC said as it marked 300 days to go until the Tokyo Paralympics.
Rodriguez will work with the IPC to make selections from a pool of identified refugee para athletes who have the potential to make the games scheduled from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5 next year, pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
To be considered for the RPT, athletes must have confirmed refugee status in accordance with international, national and regional law. They will be subject for selection by the IPC and their international federations primarily based on performance and eligibility criteria, according to the IPC.
"As a former refugee who was lucky enough to compete in the Paralympics, I appreciate the value of having a Refugee Paralympic Team -- it represents sports beyond nationalities and our athletes who will compete in Tokyo will be a symbol of hope for other refugees around the world," said Rodriguez, a 35-year-old architect.
Born in Cuba, Rodriguez and her family left for the United States when she was a teenager to receive better treatment for a spine malformation that left her paralyzed.
Rodriguez obtained U.S. citizenship and competed in swimming for the country at the 2012 London Paralympics, becoming a finalist in the women's 100-meter breaststroke SB5 event.
"I hope the RPT will encourage others around the world to support refugee athletes and give them the platform to raise awareness of the plight faced by all refugees," she said.
Working with the Office of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the IPC is also hoping the presence of the refugee team will serve as a beacon of hope for the 26 million refugees around the globe.
The International Olympic Committee has said some 50 refugee athletes will receive support to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics slated to be held from July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.
Major Japanese sportswear maker Asics Corp., an official supplier of the IPC, will also serve as the official sport apparel kit provider for the RPT at the Paralympics, according to the IPC.
Other commercial partners Panasonic Corp. and Airbnb Inc. have pledged to support the refugee team as well.
The RPT follows previous refugee initiatives from the IPC including the two-person team of refugee and asylee athletes that formed the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team which competed at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.