Saeid Fazloula had been through enough challenges in his life to know that an unscheduled seven-day stopover on the way to the Tokyo Olympics was no big drama.

Sure, it put him behind in his preparation for his first ever Olympic Games, but all he needed to do was look around at his fellow teammates, also stranded at Doha, to realise what he was doing was part of a much bigger picture.

Saeid Fazloula is member of the IOC Refugee Team at the Tokyo Olympics, the first canoe sprint paddler to be part of that team. The 28-year-old former Iranian athlete received confirmation of his selection in June.

Of course nothing in life is ever simple, so sure enough there were still more hurdles for Fazloula to clear before he could officially march in the Olympic opening ceremony. On their way to Tokyo, via Doha, one of their group tested positive for Covid.

A two-day stopover became one week, but eventually the refugee team were able to leave and to continue their Olympic dream.

“Our team had a very bad moment in Doha, but I think our team is amazing at the Olympic Games, where I can give everything, we are happy,” Fazloula said after his first race in Tokyo.

“For me, I didn’t paddle. I had ten days without paddling, 20 days before the Olympic Games. For football, they can get a ball and they can play football. I don’t have a boat in Doha.

Fazloula’s life was turned upside down in 2015 while he was competing for Iran at the ICF canoe sprint world championships. He posted a selfie standing in front of Milan Cathedral, and began receiving threats from Iranian hardliners.

He fled to Germany as a political refugee, and unsuccessfully applied to compete as a refugee at the Rio 2016 Olympics. He first paddled for Germany in 2018, but still had his goal to represent fellow refugees on the biggest sports stage on the planet.

This week he has achieved that goal.

“That was our target, we are stronger together, that is our message, and we did it. I’m an Olympian. I did two good races, so I’m happy with that,” Fazloula said.

“My target was doing the Olympic Games, making two good races, and I did that so I am very happy. It’s not about flags, about other athletes, other countries, or politics – my target was make two good races and I did that so I am happy.

“I am proud to represent refugees all around the world. I am not alone, I have a big team with me. I am just alone here, but we are not alone. You can see at the second Olympics we make a very big team.

“My wish is to make a refugee team for the International Canoe Federation.”

The official record will show Saeid Fazloula finished 21st in the men’s K1 1000 in Tokyo. In many ways that is just a footnote to what has been a momentous occasion for this inspiring athlete.

Canoe Sprint