Syr­ian refugees to run 5 km road race in the cap­i­tal on Sun­day

Kathimerini English - - Focus - SAKIS IOANNIDIS

On his cell phone, Ab­dal­lah shows me a video of Ghada Shouaa, a re­tired Syr­ian hep­tath­lete who won her coun­try’s first and, so far, only Olympic gold medal in the 1996 At­lanta Games.

The 37-year-old Ab­dal­lah has not set his eye on a medal, but he’s still hop­ing for a good run on the day of the 2016 Athens Au­then­tic Marathon. On Sun­day, he will take part in the 5-kilo­me­ter road race along with 14-year-old Ali, 22-yearold Samier and the other Syr­ian mem­bers of the “Sol­i­dar­ity Now Refugee Team.” Their two coaches will be watch­ing.

“Ev­ery Mon­day and Wed­nes­day we train at the park in Nea Smyrni. The rest of the week we play bas­ket­ball or foot­ball to stay fit,” says Eleni Kokki­nou, a phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teacher who works for the non­govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Kathimerini met with the refugee team dur­ing a soc­cer friendly with a school team from Nikaia. Ab­dal­lah was in goal, but it was clearly not his forte.

“When I lived in Syria I used to de­sign car­pets. I have been in Greece for about eight months, and I do not know where I will go from here. I am stay­ing at the same ho­tel as the rest of the team, and we got to know each other over train­ing,” he says in bro­ken English.

“I am amazed by the fact that they have so much joie de vivre af­ter ev­ery­thing they’ve been through,” says the team’s sec­ond coach, Apos­to­lis Kat­zo­gias.

He says that sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties are ben­e­fi­cial to refugees’ psy­chol­ogy and help them to make friends. It also of­fers a form of es­cape while the au­thor­i­ties are busy with their pa­per­work.

“It’s the best way of vent­ing their en­ergy. We will re­sume train­ing af­ter the Sun­day race. We are look­ing for spon­sors for our shoes and in­door train­ing fa­cil­i­ties for the win­ter,” he says.

“I like sports, I like be­ing with other peo­ple and I know how im­por­tant the Athens Marathon is to Greece and in history in gen­eral,” he says.

He be­gan his long jour­ney from Syria and made the Aegean Sea cross­ing to the Greek is­land of Lesvos from Turkey. From Lesvos he trav­eled to Idomeni on the north­ern Greek bor­der with the hope of con­tin­u­ing north to Ger­many, where his brother lives. “I joined the team so I could run and for­get about the past. Life feels a bit more nor­mal that way,” he says.

The game comes to a close amid the sound of happy laugh­ter. They vow to meet again on the pitch. This is not very likely, as most of them will be re­lo­cated to other coun­tries. They came to­gether for the marathon and they will run as a team un­til the fin­ish line.

They formed a cir­cle and cheered the Arab word for “vic­tory” with their hands stacked. Life felt a bit more nor­mal, if for a mo­ment.

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