(Vatican Radio) One of the participants at the ongoing Vatican conference on Sport and Faith is a refugee athlete from South Sudan who brings his own personal witness of how his participation in the 2016 Olympics as part of the first-ever ‘refugee team’ to compete in the Games allowed him to represent refugees across the world and shine the light on their stories and on one of the major challenges of our time.
The ‘Sport at the Service of Humanity’ global Conference is hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and sponsored with the collaboration of Allianz. The event, which is supported by the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee, is being attended by leading figures in religion and sports. Their goal is to discuss how faith and sport can work together to promote positive values, with the intention of gaining actionable results.
Paulo Amotun Lokoro, a member of the Summer 2016 Refugee Olympic Team, is a track and field athlete, specializing in the 1500 meter event. He is originally a cattle farmer from South Sudan but the civil war forced him to flea to Kenya in 2006. After arriving in Kenya, he lived at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, where he won many races and was eventually scouted by professional coaches from the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. Today, Lokoro trains in Nairobi, Kenya with former world record holder and Olympic champion marathon runner, Tegla Loroupe.
Lokoro spoke to Vatican Radio’s Hayley Susino about his participation in the ‘Sport at the Service of Humanity’ Conference and his experiences as a refugee and Olympic athlete.
Lokoro was very excited to be participating in the Sport at the Service of Humanity First Global Conference and hopes that it will accomplish the goal of promoting peace through the world of sports. “We need peace and we need compassion,” Lokoro said, reflecting on the need for peace in his home country, which is currently at war. He wishes to one day return home to South Sudan if conditions improve.
He is proud to be a member of the first team to ever represent refugees in the Olympic Games: “We are the big five refugees from Kenya and we represent the over 60 million refugees around the world.” The global community now recognizes the millions of people displaced around the world. Lokoro feels that all too often people believe that “refugees are not human beings and cannot do things like other people. You have to treat refugees in a fair way.”
Because it is not possible for Lokoro to represent his home country, he is proud to represent the refugee community: “Now we are the ambassadors of the refugees and we are the ambassadors of our countries. We are going to change our countries through sport.”
New people at the Kakuma Refugee Camp look up to Lokoro and the ones who grew up there. They provide the new inhabitants of Kakuma with inspiration: “They look to us because we are their sages; we grew up from Kakuma… and now we can do something better.” He wants people to understand that refugees are humans too. “We have vision and capacity like other people. We have words, we have everything.” Lokoro urges his fellow refugees to spread the message of peace.
Lokoro sees his Olympic career as an opportunity to spread a more important message. He is now able to preach the message of peace to the global community. “This is the beginning of my life and this is the beginning of the life of refugees. We are opening the door for the other people.”
He also believes that Pope Francis’ attention towards refugees is significant: “Of course, because of his reach and God so we are going to pray for peace in the world and it will be changed by the word of the Pope and through sport.”