Listen: Sam Robinson chats to Fiona De Jong, about the Refugee Olympic Team. Image: PBS News Hour screenshot
While Sam filled in the studio chair for Laura and Duncan on Hope 103.2 breakfast, he caught up with Fiona De Jong head of the Australian Olympic Committee – live from Rio – and asked her how the 2016 Olympic Games’ much-beloved Team Refugee was doing.
“For them it’s been a life-changing experience as you can imagine,” Fiona said.
“The response of athletes from other nations, has been overwhelming. They’re like rock stars, in the village. Everyone really wants to understand their experiences and applaud them for what they’ve been through to get here.”
“It’s really been a very interesting and personal story for each of them.”
Eye-Opening Experience for Refugee Athletes
Team Refugee consists of 10 athletes, five who were already elite competitors before their circumstances led them to be refugees, and five who were refugees first, then went on to become athletes as a result of their time in the refugee camps.
Fiona said that not only was the experience of being in an Olympic Games incredible for the athletes, but for many, simply being in a rich, westernised city was eye-opening alone.
“Some of them had never ridden an elevator,” she said. “They got in and said ‘how do we make this work’. They’d never seen a beach, so when they went to the beach the concept of sand and waves, which is so familiar to us as Aussies, was completely foreign to them.”
“They only thought there were five types of food in the world, and to eat a grape was just quite amazing for them.”
The Olympic Village dining hall, which seats 5000 people and is big enough to “fit three aircraft”, was another mind-blowing sight for the refugee athletes, said Fiona.
“There is everything you can imagine… Halal, Asian, pizza, pasta, Brazilian, lots of meats, salads…it’s all available 24 hours, free of charge,” she said. “They only thought there were five types of food in the world, and to eat a grape was just quite amazing for them. Things we take for granted in our world are really new to them.”
Fiona said the Australian swimmer Sophie Edington had been looking after the Team Refugee members from a media perspective and “really got connected with their personal life stories”.