Saturday, 18th May 2024

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Syrian taekwondo athlete from Azraq refugee camp goes to Paris Olympics

Yahya Al Ghotany, 20, a Syrian athlete based in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, poses at the  Humanitarian Sports Center of the camp, May 1, during the third edition of the Hope and Dreams Sports Festival. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

AZRAQ, Jordan — Yahya Al Ghotany, 20, was 7 years old when the civil war broke out in his homeland of Syria.Along with some 40,000 Syrians, he and his family have been sheltering in the Azraq refugee camp, a 14.7-square-kilometer community established and managed by the Jordanian government and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 90 kilometers from the Syrian border in northeastern Jordan.It was there where he, the first in a family of seven children, discovered taekwondo “by chance.” His friend at the camp told him about the taekwondo course offered by the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation (THF) in 2016. That is how he got into the sport, without knowing it would completely change his life.“When Yahya started taekwondo in 2016, he was a young boy, 12 years old. He came to me and said, ‘I want taekwondo,’” coach Asif Sabah, who trains young Syrian taekwondo athletes in the Azraq taekwondo academy and leads the sports grassroots movement there, told The Korea Times.

“In the first lessons, he was trying to do his best to prove his abilities, so I said that if he continued, he would reach his goal.”It didn’t take long before Al Ghotany showed a natural ability for the sport and began aspiring for the highest levels as an athlete. He reached the black belt second-dan level after only five years of practicing the sport under challenging and limited circumstances inside the camp. He participated in several international tournaments outside the country with the support of World Taekwondo (WT) as well.Finally on May 2, the second day of the three-day Hope and Dreams Sports Festival, an annual joint sports humanitarian initiative organized by WT and THF, Al Ghotany’s dream came true. He was officially named as one of the 36 athletes from 11 countries competing in 12 sports for the IOC Refugee Olympic Team Paris 스포츠토토존 2024.

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