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From Damascus to Tokyo: Syrian refugee to compete at Olympics

Japan Tokyo Olympics
Posted at 5:06 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 18:07:01-04

When Syrian badminton player Aram Mahmoud fled his home country six years ago, he left everything behind — including his family.

"It was a very difficult decision for my family, for my father and mother, and for me also," Mahmoud said.

But he knew it was the only way to pursue his dream of playing badminton at the highest level. 

"When I left Syria and went to the Netherlands, I found a safe place. And after that, I also started playing the sport I love."

His dream will come true this summer in Tokyo.

Mahmoud is one of 29 refugee athletes selected to compete at the Olympic games under the Olympic flag. 

The team includes a wrestler from Iraq, a cyclist from Afghanistan, and a runner from South Sudan.

"When they announced my name that I was in the team, it was one of the best moments in my life, actually," he said. 

The Olympic refugee team, which first competed five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, is meant to send a message of "solidarity, resilience, and hope" at a time when a record number of people are fleeing war and persecution around the globe.

"I'm very proud, actually, to be able to represent millions of people to make them feel that they can also reach their goal if they believe in themselves," Mahmoud said.

Mahmoud fled Syria alone when he was a teenager amid a civil war. The conflict, which started 10 years ago, has left 500,000 people dead and 13 million displaced.

When he arrived in the Netherlands in 2015, Mahmoud struggled to prove himself.

"I had like two years where I was in Syria, and I couldn't practice. So my level was a bit down," he said.

Due to his refugee status, he was unable to compete internationally for the next three years. But since then, he's wasted no time climbing the world rankings.

"Now I am like No. 2 or 3 in the Netherlands. So it's like it's quite a big improvement for me," Mahmoud said.

Though he's far from a favorite, Mahmoud is ready to make the most of his time in Tokyo.

"It's a very huge me for my family, for my father. They know that I deserve this kind of chance. And I think I will also do my best there. I'm not just going there to participate."

Ben Schamisso at Newsy first reported this story.