In the midst of lockdown, a new dream continues to take shape for these refugee athletes

In the midst of lockdown, a new dream continues to take shape for these refugee athletes

The year 2019 was an important year for 22-year-old Mahdi and 30-year-old Khaoula. The two escaped war and conflict in Afghanistan and Palestine respectively, and sought refuge in Switzerland. While still seeking asylum there, the duo, along 25-year-old Luna who hails from Eritrea, were selected to train as shooters under the aegis of the Abhinav Bindra Foundation’s project, Taking Refuge.

In collaboration with three-time Olympic champion Niccolo Campriani, the trio train at the World Archery Excellence Centre in Lausanne, in a makeshift shooting range set up for them. Campriani works with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is currently based out of the IOC headquarters in Lausanne. Within a year of taking up shooting, Mahdi and Khaoula are in touching distance of qualifying for Tokyo Olympics 2020. The postponement of the Tokyo games gives the duo one more year to prepare for the European qualifiers that will now take place in 2021.

The aim is to score above the minimum qualification score (MQS) in the qualifying event. And the manner in which they are showing progress in their scores, Bindra is confident that they will be participating in Tokyo Olympics, now set to take place in July next year. Both Mahdi and Khaoula have registered scores above the MQS in the 10m air rifle event. The MQS for the event is 590.0.

Speaking to THE WEEK, the Beijing Olympics gold medalist said, “We will continue the project. We are committed to it till next year. In a way, the postponement is a blessing for the girls as they had picked up the sport just a year ago as they get more time.” Usually, it takes two to three years once you take up the sport to be able to qualify.

With the lockdown in Switzerland, the shooters are only doing dry practice as of now. He remains in constant touch with the athletes in Lausanne. Even in the midst of lockdown, Bindra has arranged for their regular fitness related analysis with his coaches in India via video conferencing. It is not easy for an athlete to remain indoors and without competition for long periods, he admits. “Sooner of later the lockdown will obviously have an impact. There is no way you can do much beyond a point right now. The athletes will have to keep their minds in a good place,” he said.

The duo would be competing in the ISSF European Olympic Qualifier to ensure a ticket to Tokyo—certainly a life changing experience for any athlete. But then, that is the sole aim of the project—to bring positive change in the lives of refugees through sport.

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