Feature | Swimming

Introducing Rami Anis – IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holder

Syrian refugee Anis was part of the first Refugee Olympic Team at Rio 2016. Now the butterfly swimmer hopes to compete at Tokyo 2020.

By Rory Jiwani ·

Rami Anis is bidding to compete in his second Olympic Games in Tokyo having been part of the first Refugee Olympic Team at Rio 2016.

Butterfly swimmer Anis represented Syria at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, before fleeing the country as the bombs rained down on his home town of Aleppo.

He took a small bag with him to Istanbul where he joined his older brother thinking he would be back in Syria within weeks. Almost a decade later, he is yet to return.

Anis told Olympic Channel in July 2019, "My life in Syria was very nice. I had a lot of friends, I represented my country a lot of times. But after the war started, everything changed.

"When I left my country, I thought the war would stop after two months, three months..."

Even now, his dream is to return home and represent Syria at the Olympic Games.

"I wish, from my heart, to go back to my country, to represent my team again, to take my flag with me, to swim with my friends there.

"I wish to go back to my country, to represent my country again in the Olympics." - Rami Anis to Olympic Channel in July 2019

Rami Anis: IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holder

As a non-Turkish citizen, Anis was unable to swim competitively in his new home. He and his brother then embarked on a perilous journey on an inflatable dinghy, reaching the Greek island of Samos in 2015 before travelling overland to Belgium.

In February 2016, he started training at the Royal Ghent Swimming Club and was selected for the Refugee Olympic Team.

He admits to mixed feelings about stepping out behind the Olympic flag rather than that of his homeland.

"It's very hard to represent another team, another country. It was hard for me to take another flag.

"At the same time, I was very proud to represent more than 65 million refugees around the world, to show that, yes, we have dreams, we have a lot of things we want to do. We are human."

Meet Rami Anis - The swimmer representing "more than 65 million refugees"

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Despite finishing last in his 100m butterfly heat, Anis set a new personal best of 56.23s. He also clocked a career-best 54.25s in the 100m freestyle.

Away from the pool, he met some of his heroes including eating in the Athletes' Village next to tennis legend Rafael Nadal. But he had to wait until the 2017 Laureus World Sports Awards to get what he wished for most.

"Michael Phelps is my idol. When I was young, I was always watching his videos. I wanted to get a selfie with him but he was stressed because of his races. I couldn't get a selfie with him at first but, after the Olympics, I got one."

After Rio, Anis returned to live in Istanbul where he trains under Ömür Sönmez.

As a Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holder, the 30-year-old is now able to compete internationally and clocked his best time for the 100m butterfly, 55.66s, at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest.

He wants to improve on that in Tokyo, saying, "I want to achieve something good, not only my personal best. I'll see what I can do."