Olympic Dreams Spur On Refugee Champ Mahmoud

Victory at the Latvia International has given a shot of confidence to Aram Mahmoud, the Syrian player who currently plays under the Dutch flag.

Mahmoud, who relocated to the Netherlands from Syria in 2015 following unrest in his home country, is one of 37 Refugee Athlete Scholarship-Holders in contention to be part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for Tokyo 2020. The composition of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for Tokyo 2020 will be announced in June 2020.

“Winning the Latvian championship is the culmination of all my efforts and the efforts of those who helped me,” states Mahmoud. “It is a positive sign of success and personal confirmation that I can reach this level at Future and International Series tournaments.

“It was a very good experience for me. I played well all through the week. I was very hungry to win and I felt no pressure in the final. I was very focussed. I have more confidence now and I feel I can reach more goals.”

Mahmoud last played for Syria in 2014, participating in the Asian Youth U-19, World Junior Championships, and the Wilson Hellas International. Following his relocation to the Netherlands in June 2015, he took his time to adjust to his new life; it would be three years before he resumed his international career, with the Dutch International in April 2018.

“The 2014-2018 period was sometimes frustrating,” recalls Mahmoud. “I won the Syrian men’s championship for the second time in a row and the Arab Youth Championship while I was waiting for full support from the Syrian Badminton Federation, especially since my international ranking at the junior level was 85. While I was waiting for the end of the crisis in my country I got exactly the opposite, the crisis intensified.

“Chaos was all over. Because I played for Syria, after arrival in the Netherlands, I had to wait a lot before being able to compete internationally under the Dutch flag. So during that period I only played at club and Dutch national level.”

Mahmoud (centre) after claiming the Latvia International last month.

His relocation away from family has been a difficult experience, but badminton helped him address the crisis. Mahmoud kept himself engaged in the sport by playing at the Dutch national and regional centres, and at clubs in Almere. He currently trains at local club BV Almere.

“Badminton was my only link with my country and my family after my immigration to the Netherlands,” says Mahmoud. “Badminton allowed me to get help in my integration in the Netherlands. The challenge was great but I have used badminton as a tool to make friends. In the first months I moved so many times from one village to another village. Things changed when people helped me by finding a club where I could play badminton. I was helped a lot in badminton and also in my integration by people like Gerard Thijssen and Ingrid Schrijer. BV Almere is also the reason why I’ve ended up living in Almere.

“I’m blessed with the support of my family and a lot of friends. They allowed me to learn Dutch and get to know Dutch people who helped me in working hard and to improve, in terms of living, social life and sports.”

Having adjusted to his new life, Mahmoud is focussed on improving as a player and to qualify for Tokyo 2020. The year has seen some encouraging results – after playing the qualifying rounds in Estonia, Sweden and Austria, Mahmoud made the quarterfinals of the Portuguese International. Then followed the title victory in Latvia and a semifinal in Lithuania. The 21-year-old, who idolises Kento Momota, is hoping he will be on the refugee team to Tokyo 2020.

“Yes, this year has been good, but there is still plenty of room for improvement in my training,” says Mahmoud. “It has been very ‘splintered’ this year, training here and there wherever I was welcome. I had been searching for financial support, through which I could improve my training in order to raise the level of performance, by choosing my trainers and aiming for more and better training and tournaments. I’m so happy that Olympic Solidarity has awarded me a scholarship. Now, I have completed my modified plans and I have received a great moral and technical dose that will allow me to proceed to the next stage with great confidence and with a legitimate hope of preparing for the Olympics.”

“My current goals are to participate in bigger badminton tournaments and I will try to get the best out of myself, competing against other players. If it turns out later that that is enough to get selected for the refugee team, that would be great. I want to get more fit, eat healthier, improve training conditions, and gain experience by playing more tournaments.”