Ileana Rodriguez competes in the Women's 100m Breaststroke - SB5 at the London 2012 Paralympic Games on Sept. 5, 2012 in London.
As a child coming from Cuba to the United States, Ileana Rodriguez was able to find a home with Team USA and realize her Paralympic dreams. Now she’ll help six athletes do the same at next year’s Paralympic Games.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced Wednesday that it will from a six-person Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT) to compete in Tokyo, and Rodriguez will be the person leading the team in charge of selecting the athletes.
“It is an honor to be appointed by the IPC for this role,” Rodriguez, a 2012 Paralympian in swimming, said in a media release. “The team represents sports beyond nationalities with athletes who are a symbol of hope for other refugees around the world.”
While the RPT is a first, these athletes will not be the first refugees to compete at an Olympic or Paralympic Games. The Olympic Games Rio 2016 featured a 10-member Refugee Olympic Team, while the 2016 Paralympic Games featured a two-person refugee and asylee team competing as Independent Paralympic Athletes.
The IPC, along with the help of corporate sponsors, will be involved in every aspect of supporting the RPT, helping athletes have the funding and coaching to qualify and train properly for the Games. The IPC also has the goal of raising awareness of the world’s 26 million refugees. Prospective athletes must hold confirmed refugee status as well as meet the standard Paralympic eligibility requirements. No athletes have yet been selected for the team, but a pool of potential athletes has already been identified.