Displaced Syrian children hold ‘Tent Olympics’

Hurling a javelin, leaping over hurdles and sprinting beyond rows of tents to win gold, displaced children in the northwest of war-torn Syria have staged their very own Olympics.

As the Tokyo Olympics wrapped up, 120 boys from 12 different camps excitedly gathered late on Saturday for their own version of the games in Syria’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib.

Each wearing the colour of their camp, it was their turn to be the star athletes on a running track and football pitch etched in the red earth beside the tent settlement of Yaman near Idlib city.

Among the participants at the Tent Olympics 2020, Walid Mohammed al-Hassan, 12, was delighted to have represented his camp in the long jump.

“We had such fun,” he said, three fellow teammates huddled around him with their arms draped over his shoulders.

“I won second place in the long jump,” he said, grinning from ear to ear in his team’s uniform of a white headband and blue vest.

The eight- to 14-year-olds competed in a host of disciplines.

Also on the programme were javelin throw, discus throw, high jump, hurdles, gymnastics, martial arts, volleyball, badminton, football, running and even “horse racing”.

A boy named Abdallah, who did not give his age, said his team had won gold in badminton.

Organiser Ibrahim Sarmini said the event aimed to give the children some hope, but also draw the attention of the international community to their plight.

We wanted “to introduce the kids to different kinds of sports that we, as a society, hadn’t really tried before”, he said.

But “the main aim was to shine a light on the camp residents, children and adults, who are living a very tough life”, said the representative of Syrian charity Benefits.

Syrian athletes competed at the Tokyo Olympics as part of two teams – six on the national team representing the Damascus government, and nine on the international Olympic Refugee Team.

Two Syrian brothers took part last month in the different teams, although they both live in Germany.

“It’s sad to see young Syrians taking part as refugees,” Sarmini said.

“But it’s great for us that there are real free heroes to represent the people here in northwest Syria at the Olympics.”

While none of the Syrian members of the refugee team won a medal, weightlifter Man Asaad earned Syria a bronze.

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