Aram Mahmoud was the first badminton player to participate in an Olympics as a refugee player when he was selected to the IOC Refugee Team for Tokyo 2020. The Syria-born Mahmoud, who relocated to the Netherlands due to civil war in his homeland, talks about how the Tokyo 2020 experience defined him, and his journey since then:
Being an Olympian
All that I did for the Olympics and the preparation and the care that we had from the IOC and all this attention from BWF and from the IOC team helped me a lot to know more about myself and what I can do. For sure this this journey I made through the Olympics was really helpful.
It has made me proud, it has given me confidence to be able to do something. I have this status. I’m trying to do my best, I really want people to know me and recognise me. It’s still difficult for me even though the Olympics had a big impact on my life. It’s difficult to make the choices, for example, on whether I want to continue as an Olympian, to go further and further. If I go to the Olympics again I don’t want to have the level only to participate; I want to maybe win some games and maybe win the group stage and go further than that.
Camaraderie With Other Olympians
It was really nice while preparing for Tokyo to make good friends in the international badminton world. They were also having the same goal as me, the same vision. I could see how they were doing, how they were practicing. And then meeting (world No.15) Beiwen Zhang at the Centre of Excellence (Denmark) was really nice, to see who she is as a person. At the Olympics we were supporting each other.
A Deep Friendship
Beiwen has become a very good friend of mine. She was practicing here (in Almere) for three weeks before the All England and then she did really well during the tournaments in Europe. After that, she went to Asia and she advised me to go to Singapore to practice with her, and to test the practice in Asia because I have never been in Asia for training for a long time.
I went in the beginning of May and stayed for a month. I was practicing with her and the Singapore national team. I’m really happy about that. I’m really thankful for this opportunity that she arranged for me. She will also come to Almere to practice with me, so it’s a really nice relationship between us.
Growing as a Person
I learned a lot from every step through the Olympics. For me, it was also about talking to media, talking about my story and my journey as a refugee. It was helpful for me because I got some lessons on how to talk and on what I was going to do next. That helped me to understand what I do now.
Training in Singapore
At first I was training with the junior team because the seniors were at the SEA Games and then the Sudirman Cup. Then some of the seniors returned and I practised with them. There were also some sparring partners. The coaches were really good. They gave me some tips and instructions on various things in my game.
I want to focus on practising in Asia and also play some tournaments there as well. The Asian style is really nice to understand, to get the strong points of their style, and then maybe add them to my game, because I need some of those weapons. The Asian style, with the quickness and agility, endurance, those are very good points to have.
Last Four Years
I’m really, really happy about the progress I’ve made. Of course, I think I can go far more than I have. I like to take my time to have a good picture and then go for it. So now, I’m thinking what I’m going to do later. When I make a decision I will go for it for sure.
Life After Tokyo 2020
After Tokyo when I come back here (Almere in Netherlands), I was planning to keep playing badminton and also give more attention to my education. I’m still studying commercial economics, I have three years to go. It was a bit tough for me because of developments during the last two years. My family (parents and younger brother and sister) are now in the Netherlands. So that’s really good for me. I had a lot of things to arrange for them when they came here and when they got a house and everything. Now they are in a good situation. They’re also starting to learn the language. There’s a good feeling on what I’m doing now, without having to think about what they were doing in Syria.
As a player and as a person I’ve learned a lot. Now I’m a known player. Even though I’m not playing a lot of tournaments right now I’m still having a good connection with players and that’s really nice.