Vahid Sarlak is the man behind the preparation of the IJF Refugee Team that will participate in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. For many months he has been on the road, taking every single step alongside his athletes. His personal story also tells us a lot about how he sees the team and what they represent.
Vahid Sarlak

"First of all, I must say that we are not just a team, we are not just athletes, but thanks to the judo family that brought us together, we can move our lives forward better and better; we have formed a family. I was stressed the day of the announcement of the Olympic team as if I was going into the preliminaries of a big event to compete. It was very difficult for me to keep some people in the team and leave some people out.

Our team at the Paris Olympics carries a message that we want to give to the world: peace, friendship and togetherness are the most valuable and important principles of today's life.

In Tokyo, three years ago, I coached the Tajik team and now I coach those who have left their countries. Despite all the hardships they go through, they want to show themselves to the world.

I must say that the International Judo Federation left no stone unturned for us and worked so hard that there is no need to say more. Now is the time to show them that we will repay them with our preparation and the training we have done.

Maybe my eyes are full of tears now as I tell you this, because I gave my family, my country, everything I had for judo so that I could compete freely and move forward freely. I was born in Iran and I started judo there; I fell in love with it there. I must say that judo is not just a sport, judo is a family. In different words, I can say confidently that everything I have in my life I owe to judo. Judo is like a parent to me.

I became Asian champion and was sent to the world championships three times but unfortunately I was never able to win a medal at the worlds. I remember that in the 2005 World Championships I lost to an athlete from Azerbaijan for the bronze medal. Finally, I couldn't bear this injustice against myself anymore. The world of sports is a pure world and politics has no role in it. I left my homeland forever and became a refugee in Germany. Time has passed since then and I haven't seen my family for several years but instead I have a family called judo.

In my opinion, a coach has a great responsibility. In addition to the technique, tactics and preparation of athletes, they should be like a father or mother to all of them. Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is call my judoka. I encourage them and tell them that they should show themselves to the world. We need to show that it is true that we are refugees, but we can be a good example for all athletes.

Our biggest problem when travelling to other countries is getting visas, a big challenge for refugee athletes because their passport is a refugee passport and it is very difficult to get a visa with these. During our travels, I always try to plan with the help of the judo family because I think together we can handle it. I must say that the International Judo Federation has been our friend and has always supported us in such a way that we never feel alone.

As a coach and as an athlete, I have only one wish: that all athletes in the world can freely compete with each other, enjoy competition, achieve their dreams and pass it on to others in the future.

Vahid Sarlak and President Vizer

I have always considered judo a different sport from other disciplines and I have always said that judo is a family. When the head of the IJF, Mr Marius Vizer, helps me and the refugees and helps all the countries of the world, this is humanity.

At the Olympic Games, we want to prove to the world that it is true that we are refugees and we don't have a country but we have big hearts, we have big dreams and we want to prove that we can, we really can.

We represent hundreds of thousands of different refugees in the world who have left their countries. We want to tell them that we are all the same so they must fight for their dreams!

First of all, I hope to see the day when no-one in the world wants to become a refugee, but I am here to help all judo refugees achieve their dreams with the help of the IJF. I will do my best so that the refugee judoka can express themselves and prove themselves.

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