Refugee Olympian, U.N. experts promote sustainable Olympics

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Against the odds of scorching weather conditions, having no facilities to train in and without a country to compete for, Yiech Pur Biel of South Sudan ran the 800m men’s race as part of the first-ever refugee Olympic team in the 2016 Rio Games.

“Training at the camp, I was running barefoot — no shoes. The weather was dry, from morning to evening it is hot and sunny. After maybe 1 kilometer, I’d take a rest and then continue,” the 23-year-old track athlete told UPI.

Ahead of the Pyeongchang Games, which kick off Friday, U.N. agencies based in South Korea held a “talk concert” where former Olympians and opinion leaders shared how the Olympics are not just a stage for athletic skill and sportsmanship, but also a global platform to build a better and more sustainable future.

Biel shared how the Olympics can empower individuals beyond their surrounding environments and circumstances.

He was just 10 years old when he was separated from his mother during Sudan’s civil war. Fleeing from the conflict, he settled in Kenya’s Kakuma camp, where he lived with 200,000 others.

For 10 years, he’d played football at the camp but in 2015, Biel found himself training to run competitively.

Running made him feel in control of his own destiny.

“It is something I can manage as a person and see if I can do something without other people’s support. It can depend on my hard work and discipline. That is what motivated me to continue running,” he said.

He still remembers the moment he heard his name broadcast on TV as a member of the refugee Olympic team for the 2016 Games.

“From that time, I took responsibility to say that other 65.3 million refugees are looking upon us to carry this message to others, to tell the world — we have come to the Olympics. Being a refugee, we can do something. That has made me become stronger and continue to tell our story,” he said.

Biel is championing the movement to make the Olympic dream possible for refugees and displaced persons everywhere as a board member of the Olympic Refuge Foundation — a partnership between the International Olympic Committee and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We part the message of hope because many people have lost people in life, especially young refugees,” Biel said.

Disabled people, women, and social minority groups can also benefit from the international sporting event, UN Development Program Director Balázs Horváth told UPI.

“Sports is a valuable tool for promoting a just, peaceful and inclusive society. They help build trust and foster a culture of peace between groups — even groups that are in conflict — as well as help empower individuals and communities, especially for women and young children,” he said.

One core principle of the Sustainable Development Goals is leaving no one behind, which resonates strongly with the Olympic spirit, Horváth said.

“It’s about perseverance, it’s about being a team player, recovering from inevitable setback and respecting others’ achievements. These are all things you would recognize as qualities that are needed for progress in society,” he said.

As well as promoting inclusive social advancement through the Games, the conference on Tuesday shed light on how the Olympics can have a long-lasting sustainable impact on the surrounding environment and local communities.

On the highlands of Pyeongchang county, the first-ever “5G village” opened its doors to visitors from around the world, showcasing the fastest communication network technology that will be used during the Games.

Despite its close proximity to urban areas, the Uiyaji Wind Village was previously rundown and lagging in development due to a dwindling population and lack of tourist attractions.

However, South Korea’s telecom giant KT Corp. embedded the area with its cutting-edge network technology, turning it into possibly the smartest agrarian community in the world.

Farmers can use their newly installed smart anti-theft devices, based on Internet of Things technology, to protect their produce from wild boars.

They can also promote and sell their products in real time using an augmented reality platform.

Meanwhile, a 5G café allows tourists to test the high-speed next-generation network and buy regional specialties produced by the locals.

The “5G village” project aimed to make the village a self-sufficient and livable community for some 208 residents by boosting sustainable infrastructure, economic activity and resilience — all part of the SDGs.

“We created the world’ first-ever 5G village, which we hope will change the lives of the locals and ensure the legacy of the Olympics lasts in Pyeongchang County beyond the hosting of the Olympic Games,” said Lee Sun-joo, senior vice president of KT Corp.

In line with the U.N.’s development agenda, the IOC aims to foster economic, social and environmental sustainability in every aspect of the Olympics by 2020.

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