In 2011, there were two suicide bombings that took place in Damascus, the capital of Syria, which killed 44 people. This was to be the first of several violent attacks that would take place in the succeeding years.
It was also in the year 2011 that the parents of Syrian swimmer Rami Anis decided to send him to Turkey, to stay with his older brother in Istanbul. He was 20 years old then. He thought he would be staying only for a few months and that he would come back as soon as the war was over. But the months stretched into years and the war showed no signs of easing.
And so Rami decided to continue his training in Turkey instead, still hoping that the war in his country will soon end, and that he can go back to participate in swimming competitions. After all, he had participated in two world championships and even placed second at the Asian championship at that point. But even though he was training in Turkey, he could not compete simply because he was not a citizen. He says, “It’s like someone who is studying, studying, studying and he can’t take the exam.” And he realized that he was “losing his best years as an athlete.”
So last year, he decided to embark on a journey that would change his life. He left Turkey and went through Greece aboard an inflatable boat just like his compatriot and teammate Yusra Mardini. His boat landed on the Greek island of Samos and from there he traveled by land to Germany then sought permanent refuge in Belgium.
He was granted asylum in December 2015, five years after the twin suicide bombings took place in Damascus. He now trains under the tutelage of two-time Olympian Carine Verbauwen in preparation for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. He waited patiently for a total of 5 years to compete again.
Though Rami is grateful to be a part of the team of refugee athletes in the Olympics, what sets him apart is that he has his eyes set beyond winning an Olympic medal. “I hope that at Tokyo 2020 there will be no more refugee teams as I hope for all wars to end so all athletes will be able to compete in the name of their country. Syrians to compete for Syria. Iraqis to compete for Iraq. Athletes to go back participating in their own countries as all the wars are over.”
Sometimes, experience teaches us to look beyond the medal to see the real treasure – which is world peace. And this is what Rami Anis wants to achieve by swimming in the Olympics. And so, we hope and wait patiently with Rami for that to happen.
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