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Sport provides refugee with a new beginning in Australia

9 March 2016

Arash Arian arrived in Australia in 2010 on a small boat after fleeing Afghanistan. He had no family, he could not speak English, Arash knew no-one.

All he had was his sport, he played football and held a green belt in martial arts.

He spent the next nine months in a detention centre before being granted a permanent protection visa and moving to Sydney.

Within a few years he learned the language, completed his Higher School Certificate and he took up taekwondo.

Life in Australia provided Arash with a new beginning and new hope.

These days he is studying at university and chasing his dream to compete at the Olympic Games.

He was elated and excited when the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, invited refugees, who were top level athletes, to participate in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games. They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees in the Olympic Village. This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in the world,” Bach said.

The Australian Olympic Committee embraced the initiative of the IOC and began working with the national sporting federations and relevant authorities to see if there were refugees in Australia they could assist.

The AOC found Arash.

“The IOC like all of us saw the plight of the people as they flee their homes, particularly from Syria recently, and the sheer numbers of refugees around the world that are in camps is just staggering,” Australian Olympic Committee CEO Fiona de Jong said.

“So you can imagine some of these people would have had ambitions to go to the Olympic Games in their chosen sport.

“To their credit the IOC recognised that and thought ‘why should they be denied the opportunity to pursue their dreams and their talents because they don’t happen to have a passport of a nation that is recognised’.

“When the IOC announced this opportunity we knew that Australia had taken in some refugees and in the spirit of the intention of this initiative we did write to all of our sports and encourage them to identify any athletes that may be in local clubs or part of their national programs and come and talk to us and see if we can help get them a pathway to the Games.”

By now, all the hard work and dedication to training enabled Arash to win state titles and the Australian title in 2014. He was the standard of competitor the IOC was looking for.

“As soon as I heard that the IOC had changed the rules for refugees I applied straight away,” Arash explained, in his fantastic English.

“We had a bit of issues to start but luckily the AOC got involved and accepted my application and supported me to get to the qualification event.”

 “There was some furious and engaging discussions and a lot of cooperation from department officials to get them travel documents, because he didn’t have a passport to travel to PNG,” de Jong explained.

“Arash Arian travelled to the Oceania qualifier in Papua New Guinea where he finished third. It was an outstanding result considering the rush to get him entered but that wasn’t enough as only the first place in each category had the opportunity to go through.”

Arash was beaten by a competitor he had previously beaten.

“It is disappointing but that is the sport. I went and competed and unfortunately couldn’t get the gold medal but it was good to have that opportunity and get bronze.

“I am grateful for the opportunity and the help of the AOC. I am hopeful that this is just the beginning for me. I have several competition and world championships next year where hopefully by then I will be an Australian citizen.

“I am waiting every single day to be a citizen and to be able to represent this great country. Without the support of my friends, training partners and the Australian public I would not have these opportunities.”

Arash’s attitude and determination gives you the impression he can achieve anything and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are possible.

“I will make it no matter what. I will be so happy to represent this great country.

“During hard times I was always thinking of the future and working hard. You need to keep moving forward in life and work hard. I have so many things I want to achieve.”

AOC staff have enjoyed getting to know Arash and trying to help him through the challenges you face without the paperwork and facilities most of us have access to.

“There are so many hurdles to have to jump through which as citizens we take for granted,” de Jong said.

“How do you have a birth certificate to prove your date of birth and country of origin? How do you get a security clearance when you don’t have a home state? How do you get accommodation if you can’t be issued with a credit card? All of these day to day things that we take for granted.

“The Australian Passport Office and DFAT were very co-operative in assisting with these efforts.”

Arash has just completed his first semester of a Bachelor of Law and International Studies at the University of Western Sydney.

“It is a five year course as it is a double degree but I am determined to graduate so I can make changes for many people around the world.”

Arash has casual jobs around his study and training to send money back to his family in Afghanistan. Having missed a spot at the Rio 2016 Games he will keep training hard with the Australian squad and is targeting selection for the World Championships next year.


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