Whether in terms of the blow to their morale and self-image that refugees suffer, or the prism through which they are seen by others, Mahmoud hopes he and the rest of the IOC Refugee Olympic team can inspire those who face difficult challenges in lands far away from their own.
“Now I’m playing not only for my country, but for refugees all around the world,” said Mahmoud. Incidentally, Sunday 20 June is observed as World Refugee Day. “There are a lot of people who need motivation, that they can do what they don’t expect to do. We can achieve something; we are not just people who went out of our country; we also can do things in other countries. If we have a dream we can achieve it but we have to work hard for it. The last few years I worked hard to get this opportunity, and for every athlete the Olympics is a big dream. I’m happy to be there and very happy to be representing the refugee team.”
The Syrian player was selected as one of 29 members of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team. Today being World Refugee Day, what message does he have for refugees?
“You have to believe in yourself, that you can do whatever you want. Like, some people when they go to another place, they think they are not as good as the others. They have negative thoughts and think negatively about themselves. But if they change their mind and if they focus on their goals and don’t think about anything else, or don’t consider the way they are talked about by others, they can work to achieve their goals.”
Apart from the refugees themselves, Mahmoud would like host communities to be sensitive to the abilities of those who have migrated in despair.
“We are also human like everyone else. What they can do, we can also do. Let us help each other and we can rise together. Now it’s my chance, and I’m lucky to have this chance. Maybe next time a different person will get this chance, and we will also be happy for them.”
The 23-year-old Mahmoud, currently No.169 in the world rankings, relocated to the Netherlands from Syria in 2015 following unrest in his home country, and has since April 2018 been playing under the Dutch flag. Migrating to a different country had its challenges, but Mahmoud believes his experiences shaped him into who he became.
“There were a lot of difficult moments… but every time I think I’m in the Olympics, I’m very happy that I’ve been through a lot of difficult situations… they motivate me to use them to go for my goals and forget about everything else and what I want for the future. I’m happy and satisfied with where I am now. It’s been a very long journey for me over the last couple of years. If I think how much sweat and effort and money I had to sacrifice, I’m actually very happy with who I am now.”