The International Canoe Federation has congratulated the International Olympic Committee for including Iranian canoe sprint athlete Saeid Fazloula on the refugee Olympic team for Tokyo 2020.

Fazloula’s place on the Olympic team was confirmed today by IOC President Thomas Bach in an announcement marking the International Day of the Refugee. President Bach said the refugee team sends a message of hope to the world this summer and brings further awareness to the plight of over 80 million displaced people worldwide.

ICF President Jose Perurena said Fazloula would be an important member of the Olympic family.

“We are very pleased that Saeid will get the chance to achieve his Olympic dream in Tokyo,” Mr Perurena said.

“He and his supporters have worked incredibly hard to get to this stage, and now all those efforts have paid off. We are very excited that Saeid will not only get the chance to race in Tokyo, but will also become a member of the Olympic canoe sprint family.

“Saeid’s story has been an inspiration to all of us. On behalf of the ICF, I congratulate this young man, his family and his supporters for what they have already achieved, and wish them all the best in the exciting weeks ahead.”

The announcement on Tuesday came as a great relief for 28-year-old Saeid Fazloula, who had hoped to make his Olympic debut as a refugee athlete in Rio in 2016.

But his dream could not be fulfilled on that occasion. He made it onto the shortlist for the 2016 refugee Olympic team, but did not make the final cut.

Fazloula was heartbroken, but even more determined to achieve his goal. Just one year earlier he had arrived in Germany as a refugee from Iran. He had been a member of the Iranian canoe sprint team, winning medals at the Asian championships, and had continued competing in his new country.

As the 2020 Olympics drew closer, it appeared Fazloula would once again miss out. He thought the stars were aligned against him. But then the pandemic arrived, and suddenly he had more time.

His list of supporters is impressive, led by Olympic gold medalist Detlef Hoffman. No-one worked harder than Hoffman, with the exception of Fazloula himself, to get the Iranian onto the refugee team.

There was also strong support from his local canoeing association, from the German Canoe Association and the German Olympic Sports Confederation, and the German education minister. He also had the backing of German coaches and athletes.

They told the IOC that Fazloula was a role model for successful community integration. In February this year it was confirmed Fazloula had been included on a list of IOC refugee athlete scholarship holders, and on Tuesday his place in Tokyo was confirmed.

“I say to every refugee, never give up,” Fazloula said recently.

“I wish all the best for all the Iranian athletes. I know my K2 partner from Iran had to qualify for Tokyo, and if I go to Tokyo I will be racing against my former K2 partner.”

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