Madrid's new jewel: a sports training center for refugees

(ATR) Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee, tells Around the Rings it's the first of its kind.

(ATR) Madrid fought three times in the last 20 years to host the Olympic Games and failed all three times. London, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo took the prize. Reason enough for the Spanish capital to dampen the Olympic spirit somewhat. On the contrary, Madrid inaugurated this week a sports training center that is, according to its promoters, "unique in the world", because it is "the first one dedicated to refugees".

"Four years ago, when I got to know the world of refugees, my soul fell at my feet. It's a tough, tough world. That's why I'm so proud to have set up the world's first refugee training center," explained Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE), in a dialogue with Around the Rings.

The sports center for refugees, installed in Getafe, a city that is part of the urban area of Madrid, was inaugurated on Wednesday. Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was present at the ceremony via virtual channels, with a message of praise for Blanco's initiative.

"This milestone for Spanish and world sport shows that the Spanish Olympic Committee is an unbeatable example of putting sport at the service of humanity. This sports center is the perfect example of how the Olympic movement can support the resolution of humanitarian crises (...). This center will show that refugees are loved human beings," the German said in a video message.

The imminent Tokyo 2020 Games will once again feature a team of refugees, as happened in previous editions. This time there will be 29 competitors from 13 countries competing in 11 sports.

José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes, Spanish Minister of Culture and Sport, explained why the new refugee training center is named after Alejandro Blanco and why its inauguration was a particularly exciting moment for him.

"It is exciting because it is here in Getafe, a city where I studied and lived. Because it bears the name of Alejandro Blanco, a benchmark in Spanish sport, someone with light and humility who always seeks a solution. The fact that it bears his name is a well-deserved recognition".

Blanco pointed out that Spain receives "60,000 refugees a year" and that the new "Alejandro Blanco Sports Center" will host 200 to train them in multiple sports disciplines. The president of the COE mentioned the case of an African refugee who had a special impact on him.

"We made a video, and towards the end there is a girl, smiling as can be, who takes a tumble when she jumps into the water. I say in the video that this is the jump that will become fashionable in the next Games, and we all laugh. But I add: half of those who are here have crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in a patera (precarious boat), without knowing how to swim. Their relatives have died. It took us two weeks to get the refugees to go into the pool because they were terrified of the water".

"And that funny girl, who is from Nigeria, has been abused multiple times. It gives me goose bumps. That's the real tough world, and sport gives them a chance to integrate."

Blanco assured that the sports center that bears his name was built "without public money" and with contributions from the IOC, the COE, three international sports federations, a university and the company Technogym, which provided the machines for the gymnasium. The land for the center was provided by the Getafe City Council.

According to the COE, "the sports center has a surface area of 700 square meters made up of three rooms. One of them will be equipped with a tatami provided by the International Judo Federation; another will be multi-purpose; and the third will be for weight training and will be equipped with state-of-the-art Technogym machines. This pavilion also has two changing areas and a storage room for equipment. Lastly, the facilities will be completed with an outdoor multi-sports court for basketball, indoor soccer and handball".

Blanco was careful to emphasize that the training center aims first and foremost at the social integration of the refugees.

"When they arrive as refugees they obviously don't yet have the level to compete, but for them to train and do it together with the people of the town... that alone is worthwhile.

There was a refugee boy in Huelva who wanted us to do an 800 meter test, a boxer in Portugal who heard about this and asked us to do the test for him. Every Thursday we have organized, for a year and a half, a soccer match of a refugee team versus the third team of Getafe. And now we have the center: we want it to be a showcase for those who have the opportunity to compete tomorrow".

Written and reported by Sebastián Fest

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