Idleb (Syria) (AFP)
Throwing a javelin, leaping over obstacles and sprinting past rows of tents to win gold, displaced children in war-torn northwest Syria hosted their own Olympics.
As the Tokyo Olympics wrapped up this weekend, 120 boys from 12 different camps enthusiastically gathered on Saturday night for their own version of the Games in the last major Syrian rebel stronghold of Idlib.
Each wearing their camp color, it was their turn to be the star athletes on a running track and soccer field etched in the red dirt next to the Yaman tent settlement near the town of Idlib.
Among the participants in the “Tent Olympics 2020”, 12-year-old Walid Mohammed al-Hassan was delighted to have represented his camp in the long jump.
“We had so much fun,” he said, three teammates huddled around him, their arms draped over his shoulders.
“I won second place in the long jump,” he said, smiling from ear to ear in his team uniform consisting of a white bandeau and a blue vest.
The eight to 14 year olds competed in a host of disciplines.
Also on the program: javelin, discus, high jump, hurdles, gymnastics, martial arts, volleyball, badminton, football, running and even “horse racing”.
Surrounded by a small crowd, two boys in white karate gear clashed, while another – much shorter – appeared to be acting as a referee.
On the race track, a boy ran as fast as he could, hugging a cutout of a horse’s head to his chest in a “horse race.”
As the sun set, attendees and organizers cheered on the winners as the winners stepped onto the podium to receive their medals under a shower of confetti.
A boy named Abdallah, who did not give his age, said his team won badminton gold.
– ‘Real free heroes’ –
The Idlib region is home to nearly three million people, two-thirds of whom were displaced from other parts of Syria during its 10-year conflict.
The majority of those who lost their homes live in camps scattered across the jihadist-dominated region, dependent on humanitarian aid for survival and battling cold and flooding in winter.
Organizer Ibrahim Sarmini said the event aimed to give the children some hope, but also to draw the attention of the international community to their plight.
We wanted to “introduce children to different kinds of sports that we as a society hadn’t really tried before,” he said.
But “the main objective was to shed light on the residents of the camp, children and adults, who live very hard lives,” said the representative of the Syrian charity Benefits.
The war in Syria has killed an estimated 500,000 people since the start of 2011 with the crackdown on anti-government protests and displaced millions inside and outside the country.
Syrian athletes competed in the Tokyo Olympics as part of two teams – six on the national team representing the government of Damascus and nine on the International Refugee Olympic Team.
Two Syrian brothers took part in the different teams last month, although they both live in Germany.
“It’s sad to see young Syrians participating as refugees,” said Sarmini.
“But it’s great for us that there are real free heroes to represent the people here in Northwestern Syria at the Olympics. “
While none of the Syrian refugee team members won a medal, weightlifter Man Asaad won Syria a bronze medal.
© 2021 AFP