Everything is possible through sport

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Only twice in my life have I cried: when my mother left me and when I learned that I would be part of the first ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team. When I entered the Olympic Stadium with my teammates for the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, it was a defining moment for me. One that I will never forget. I can still hear the crowd cheering us on and I thought of my fellow refugees in Kakuma and my family. I took a moment to reflect on everything I had been through to get to this point and the message we needed to send to the watching world.

We were ambassadors of hope at Rio 2016, spreading the message that anything is possible. Today, as the IOC Refugee Olympic Team and the Refugee Olympic Foundation received the Princess of Asturias Prize for Sport, that message came true. When I was separated from my mother, I wasn’t sure I would see her again. I wasn’t sure she was alive. It was in Rio that the IOC reunited me with my family. As an Olympic athlete, I spoke to my birth mother for the first time since I was 10 years old. This is the power of sport. This is the value of the Olympic Movement.

In Rio, we showed the world that as refugees we can do anything. Being a refugee is not the end. For me, with the IOC by my side, it was the start of a new journey.

After I returned from running the 800 meters at Rio 2016, the IOC helped me enroll as a student at Iowa Central Community College in the United States. I was then appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and appointed by the IOC as Team Leader of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at Tokyo 2020. I was able to show more people than ever that there is no shame in being a refugee, that anything is possible.

Now that I have also been named an IOC Member and a Board Member of the Olympic Refuge Foundation, the IOC continues to enhance my ability to shed light on global conflict, providing me with a vital platform to speak on behalf of and with my fellow refugees.

In 2005, when I was only 10 years old, government troops arrived in my village in the midst of conflict in South Sudan. It changed my life, but I was one of the lucky ones. I escaped with my mother and my brother. We spent three days in the bush, eating nothing but fruit, before being rescued by the UN and finding refuge in Kenya. It was there that I got into running and first discovered the power of sport to unite people.

With the support of the Olympic Refuge Foundation – the organization created by the IOC – I recently returned to Kakuma refugee camp. I saw my family and advocated for refugees to find their belonging through sport and shape their own future. Thanks to the foundation, which aims for one million young people affected by displacement to have access to safe sport by 2024, I can now give back to the communities that have inspired my own journey.

On my part, and on behalf of all the refugees in the world, I thank the Princess of Asturias Foundation for this historic recognition. There is no better tool than sport to unite people; in the Kakuma camp, I saw friendships develop between 19 different nationalities – all thanks to the power of sport. And at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, we competed as one in peaceful competition. You never know what tomorrow has in store for you; anyone can be a refugee, but anyone can also dream and achieve their dreams.


Yiech Pur Biel is an Olympian, who competed as a member of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at Rio 2016 and was a team manager for the same team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In February 2022, he was was elected as an IOC member – the first time in Olympic history that a UNHCR-recognized refugee has held this position. He is also a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. {IDIOT}


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