Highly qualified athletes who are refugees will be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time, the president of the International Olympic Committee announced Monday.
IOC chief Thomas Bach made the announcement to the U.N. General Assembly which adopted a resolution urging all countries to stop fighting and observe a truce during the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Bach appealed to all 193 U.N. member states to help the IOC identify talented refugee athletes.
"This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis," he said.
Until now, Bach said, qualified refugee athletes were not able to participate because they couldn't represent their home country and its national Olympic committee.
But he said the IOC has decided to welcome refugee athletes to the 2016 Olympics where they will live in the Olympic Village alongside the other 11,000 athletes from 206 national Olympic committees.
"Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic anthem," he said.
Currently, there are about 20 million refugees in the world — and the number is growing. The U.N. refugee chief, Antonio Guterres, said earlier this month that more than 500,000 refugees and economic migrants have entered Europe this year, and thousands more are following in their footsteps.
Bach said the IOC has created a $2 million fund "to bring hope through sport to refugees."
"At the same time, we are assisting high-level refugee athletes to continue their sports careers," he said. "We help them to make their dream of sporting excellence come true even when they have to flee from violence and hunger."
But Bach said the IOC needs help in identifying more high-level refugee athletes.
He stressed that in Olympic sports, "all people are equal, regardless of their race, gender, social status, cultural background, faith or belief." He said the Olympic Games are the culmination of this vision and the principle of nondiscrimination.
Bach alluded to world soccer's corruption-hit governing body, FIFA, telling the General Assembly that the IOC "has ensured that we are in compliance with the highest standards of good governance and transparency."
"In this respect, we are asking other major sports organizations to undertake the necessary and swift reforms in order to restore their reputation," the IOC president said.
The Olympic Truce resolution was introduced by Carlos Nuzman, president of the Rio organizing committee, on behalf of the Olympic movement and Brazil. It was approved by consensus, with about 180 countries as co-sponsors.
It urges all U.N. member states to observe the truce starting seven days before the Olympics take place, from Aug. 5-21, 2016, and lasting until seven days after the end of the Paralympic Games, which will be held from Sept. 7-18, 2016.
The resolution recalls an ancient Greek tradition where the legendary oracle of Delphi called for a cessation of hostilities to encourage a peaceful environment and ensure safe passage and participation of athletes in the ancient Olympics.
The General Assembly revived the tradition in 1993 and has adopted resolutions before the summer and winter Olympic games since then, but countries have continued fighting wars whether the Olympics are on or not.