Syrian children hold 'Tent Olympics' of the displaced

Syrian children hold 'Tent Olympics' of the displaced

Organiser Ibrahim Sarmini said the event aimed to give the children some hope, but also draw the attention of the international community to their plight

This aerial view shows a field at a camp for displaced Syrians hosting the so-called "Camp Olympics 2020" in the town of Fuaa, in the northwestern Syrian last major rebel bastion of Idlib, on August 7, 2021, as 120 boys from 12 different camps gather for their own version of the Olympic games, at the end of the Tokyo Olympics. Credit: AFP Photo

Hurling a javelin, leaping over hurdles and sprinting beyond rows of tents to win gold, displaced children in the northwest of war-torn Syria staged their very own Olympics.

As the Tokyo Olympics wrapped up at the weekend, 120 boys from 12 different camps excitedly gathered late Saturday for their own version of the Games in Syria's last major rebel bastion of Idlib.

Each wearing the colour of their camp, it was their turn to be the star athletes on a running track and soccer pitch etched in the red earth besides the tent settlement of Yaman near Idlib city.

Among the participants at the "Tent Olympics 2020", Walid Mohammed al-Hassan, 12, was delighted to have represented his camp in the long jump.

"We had such fun," he said, three fellow team mates huddled around him with their arms draped over his shoulders.

"I won second place in the long jump," he said, grinning from ear to ear in his team's uniform of white head band and blue vest.

The eight to 14-year-olds competed in a host of disciplines.

Also on the programme were javelin, discus, high jump, hurdles, gymnastics, martial arts, volleyball, badminton, football, running and even "horse racing".

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Surrounded by a small crowd, two boys in white karate outfits squared off against each other, while another -- much shorter -- appeared to act as referee.

On the race track, a boy ran as fast as he could clutching a cutout of a horse's head to his chest in a "horse race".

As the sun set, participants and organisers cheered wildly as the winners stepped up 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 had won gold in badminton.

The Idlib region is home to nearly three million people, two-thirds of them displaced from other parts of Syria over the course of its 10-year-old conflict.

The majority of those who have lost their homes live in camps dotted across the jihadist-dominated region, dependent on humanitarian aid to survive and battling the cold and floods in winter.

Organiser Ibrahim Sarmini said the event aimed to give the children some hope, but also draw the attention of the international community to their plight.

We wanted "to introduce the kids to different kinds of sports that we, as a society, hadn't really tried before", he said.

But "the main aim was to shine a light on the camp residents, children and adults, who are living a very tough life", said the representative of Syrian charity Benefits.

Syria's war has killed around 500,000 people since starting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests, and displaced millions in and outside the country.

Syrian athletes competed at the Tokyo Olympics as part of two teams -- six on the national one representing the Damascus government, and nine on the international Olympic Refugee Team.

Two Syrian brothers took part last month in the different teams, although they both live in Germany.

"It's sad to see young Syrians taking part as refugees," Sarmini said.

"But it's great for us that there are real free heroes to represent the people here in northwest Syria at the Olympics."

While none of the Syrian members of the refugee team won a medal, weightlifter Man Asaad earned Syria a bronze.