REPORTAGE. Paris 2024: from the Lesbos camp, Mahmood Alizada, an Afghan refugee, is chasing his Olympic dream

“Do you see these trainers in the closet? They are my favorite but we share them with several people. I hope to have them tomorrow for the Lesbos trail and maybe even for Paris!” Faded pink, threadbare tips, sagging soles, the sports shoes mirrored by Mahmood Alizada have come a long way. Kind of like the 18-year-old.

The odyssey that brought him here marked his body and his mind. Left from Afghanistan, the young man with the laughing eyes crossed Iran and worked, although minor, in the textile factories of Turkey before reaching, three years ago, Greece. Faced with extremely precarious living conditions, Mahmood Alizada made running his compass. The association Yoga and Sport With Refugees, which offers physical activities to refugees, accompanies him on the island of Lesbos (Greece). On Saturday June 15, it opened a relay of its activities in Paris and has the ambition to help it integrate theolympic refugee team in 2024.

The pines cast their dancing shadows on the road that leads to Mitilene, the main town of Lesbos. The last rays of sun caress an azure sea. A landscape that has become the daily life of Mahmood Alizada for running outings of 10 km, 20 km or 40 km.

It is both the most beautiful island and the most terrible“, explains the 18-year-old young man, with a slender figure. Below, the white tents of the Mavrovouni camp are spread out in tight rows behind fences and barbed wire. VSHastily built on a former army firing site, after Moria camp was engulfed in flames, they house dhe families coming mainly from Afghanistan, Congo, Eritrea or Sierra Leone.

“Many migrants tell us that they had two alternatives to survive in these extreme conditions: sport or drugs”explains the French Estelle Jean, co-founder of Yoga and Sport with Refugee, an association that supports migrants in their sporting practice.

“When I arrived, I was boxing but I didn’t like kicking. I couldn’t sleep, I was having nightmares. The doctor told me to stop.” Running then became his escape. A cure for boredom, too. “When I run, I’m happy. After 25 km, I no longer think of anything. It brings me a lot of calm, it soothes my mind.”

From the island of Lesbos, in Greece, Mahmood Alizada, an Afghan refugee, dreams of the Olympic Games.  At 18, the young man has made running his compass, his mantra.  The association Yoga and Sport With Refugees, which accompanies him in his practice of running, opens in Paris in June a relay of his activities and nourishes the ambition to help him integrate the team of Olympic refugees.

Gifted, the young man began to dream of Olympic Games. The one who is called “Mahmood Good Mood”, for his communicative good humor, quickly became one of the pillars of the association. “I was training a lot, so I was offered to become a coach, I’m very proud of it”explains the interested party in shorts with fluorescent flowers. “We quickly saw that Mahmood was really good at big distances and he could do something with it. We’re trying to push him so he can reach the level he dreams of.” explains Estelle Jean.

“To be at the Olympics with Yoga and Sport would be incredible. To show people that we come from here, from Lesbos, with our stories. To be happy and proud.”

Mahmood Alizada, refugee

france info: sports

Like Mahmood, several refugee athletes show promise. The idea of ​​continuing to accompany them, once their papers had been obtained, gradually took hold. “Ihere is both a strong demand from refugees, but, above all, we have the prospect of Olympic Games in 2024. It’s a dream for which we allow ourselves to create, in Paris, at the end of June, this new adventure”, gets excited Estella John. An important investment for the small association that dreams big.

In the gym of Yoga and Sport With Refugees, lThe body-building class is in full swing. The sound system at full speed broadcasts a mixture of Afghan music and reggaeton remixes. While waiting to end your session with sheathing, Mahmood Alizada cares carefully equipment. Swimming goggles, shorts, trainers, boxing pads and sportswear are kept in large cupboards. “Migrants have often left everything behind. They have to be equipped from head to toe”, explains Madeleine, a French volunteer who officiates at the reception.

The material difficulties, the precariousness of the athletes, and the hostility of the Greek administration represent so many daily challenges. “With repeated quarantines in Greece, the camp was almost cordoned off by the police. Migrants could only go out once a week, for four hours maximum. We gave all the equipment we could so that they can continue to play sports indoors”, adds Estelle Jean. The young Afghan, who lived in Mavrovouni before joining a center for minors, remembers: “I was jumping the barrier and the barbed wire to go for a run. Luckily I was running fast, the police couldn’t catch me. It was a difficult time.”

“You wait for papers that will give you a life, it’s something that drives you to despair. Sport brings resistance and freedom. Without it, many would go crazy, going around in circles from morning to night at camp , until you lose yourself.”

Estelle Jean, co-founder of Yoga and Sport With Refugees

at franceinfo: sport

At the age of 18, so as not to find the tents of the camp, Mahmood Alizada joined the “house of coaches”. The accommodation, in the center of Mytilene, is available to the coaches of the association. These latter if there succeed for six months, one year, three years, until obtaining their papers. The only decoration on these bare walls: trophies and medals, proudly displayed.

Mahmood Alizada in front of the trophy shelf in the "coaches house", on May 22, 2022, in Lesvos (Greece).  (LOUISE LE BORGNE / FRANCEINFO: SPORT)

In a few weeks, the young man will in turn leave the island. Just of age, Mahmood has just obtained his papers. A destination is essential: France, where the young runner will file his asylum application. the process, long and difficult, necessarily parasitic the intraining of a top athlete. I’m not afraid of sleeping on the streets in France, of having to start all over again. All I want is to keep running, learn French, work and help the association.” replies the young man. As a farewell, he signed up for one last race. His way of projecting himself towards Paris.

A few minutes before the start, Mahmood Alizada patiently laces up his favorite sneakers, finely negotiated during the distribution of equipment. Ten participants from Yoga and Sport With Refugees and about fifteen supporters made the trip to Petra, in west island.

Mahmood Alizada laces up his favorite sneakers before setting off on the Lesbos trail route on May 23, 2022 in Petra (Greece).  (LOUISE LE BORGNE / FRANCEINFO: SPORT)

At the start, the young man did not hesitate long before taking the lead and swallowing up the kilometers between the olive trees. “It happened that there were no Greeks on the podiums. Only refugees from Yoga and Sport. In their minds there is no possible defeat. They will go for it 100% and give everything until ‘at the end of the competition, even if they are less trained”smiles Estelle John, an association t-shirt on the shoulders.

But on arrival, the sportsman grin: “I had to stop because of pain Knee. I finish third, that’s good, mais sIf I want to compete in the Games one day, I have to run more than 36 km without pain”, he explains to the applause of his team before letting go in a cry of joy: “The next one will be in Paris!”

Mohamad Qantari and Mahmood Alizada, Afghan refugees, after the trail in Lesbos (Greece), May 23, 2022. (LOUISE LE BORGNE / FRANCEINFO: SPORT)

After the race, volunteers and athletes take a short respite in the crystal clear water. Like a snub to the same Mediterranean they once crossed. Sitting in the water, Mahmood Alizada imagines his new life. He has already planned to run a race in Brittany at the beginning of July, “to keep up the pace. He won’t have this time his favorite sneakers. No matter : “They will make other people happy at Yoga and Sport with Refugees. With or without shoes, I will do everything to fully live my Olympic dream.”

We wish to give thanks to the writer of this short article for this outstanding content

REPORTAGE. Paris 2024: from the Lesbos camp, Mahmood Alizada, an Afghan refugee, is chasing his Olympic dream

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