Mohammad Rashnonezhad will be competing in the -66kg weight category this summer in Paris as a member of the IJF Refugee Team, participating in his first Olympic Games. This represents an amazing achievement for him and for the refugee community whom he represents proudly.

"I can't tell you how happy I am to have reached this point in my life. I spent 16 years just waiting to reach the Olympics. I really hoped to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Games but it didn't happen. I continued with my efforts and now I am waiting to fight on the Olympic stage and show the whole world that dreams can be achieved despite all difficulties.

When I heard the news that I was selected, it was as if all the fatigue of years of training left my body. I cried out of happiness. In those moments, more than anything, I thought about my father and all the hard work he had done for me.

Competing at the Olympics is an opportunity for me to prove to myself that achieving a childhood dream can only be done with love. Competing at the Olympics means getting to a place where I can show the world my true self.

For the moment, I don't feel stressed. I don’t want to think too much about the Olympics itself right now. I am only waiting for 28th July and being on the tatami. I’m currently training in Papendal (NED) and in another club in Nijmegen (NED) and everything is going well.

I was born in Andimeshk (Khuzestan Province), located in the south-west of Iran and that’s where I started practising judo. My father was a judoka himself. When I was a child, he took me to watch the sport. In my hometown, many young people practised it so it was natural for me to begin too.

I was a member of the national team from 2009 until 2017. In 2013, I went to the US for the Junior World Championships and the team officials did not allow me to compete against the Israeli athlete. I realised that I was facing a big problem that I could not solve by myself and this problem can change the course of my life. 4 years later I went to Den Haag (NED). On the last day of my trip, I decided to leave the hotel and stay in the Netherlands. It was so hard. I had nothing but a judo suit. I have started a new life from scratch. At that time my world ranking was 26 at -60kg.

Today I live in Westervoort (NED). Every morning from 9 to 11 am I do my exercises in the gym and in the afternoon I practise judo, 6 days a week. I think that discipline is one of the most important things if you want to be a top athlete; you have to have strong discipline. It’s not easy at all especially when you are young. You have to cut off many of the things that you like, even your family.

I made very good friends in the Netherlands who helped me a lot along the way. Many of these people were part of the Dutch judo family and many of them helped me in the difficult path of seeking asylum to continue playing professionally. I have to thank the IJF and IOC a lot as well.

Today my dream is to win Olympic and world championship medals. Judo is a very difficult sport when practised at the highest level. In my opinion, we reach great victories from difficult paths and through judo we can learn to have a better life. When you do judo professionally, you learn to find different solutions to every problem in life and you learn not to back down easily. Therefore, judo is not just a sport but a way to face life's difficulties.

I am looking forward to the individual competition in Paris but also to the mixed team event. In my opinion, unity makes people stronger. Being in the team is a sign of this unity. We have people from different countries in our team but we feel a strong sense of unity like a single country.

I want to say to the world and to other refugees to never give up. Since I am a refugee myself and I know how difficult the conditions are for refugees, knowing that many of them lose their dreams due to the hardships of life, after my career, I plan to go to refugee camps and find children and young people who are interested in judo and teach them the sport and its values. I hope I can do this with the IJF's help."

We wish Mohammad Rashnonezhad good luck for this summer and on his path to have a better life, like millions of other refugees. His participation as well as that of his teammates is proof that everything is possible and that through judo one can hope and dream again.

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