Independent Paralympic Athlete team makes history in Rio thanks to the support of Allianz SE

Ibrahim al-Hussein, a 27 year old refugee from Syria, talks with his trainer during a break of his training session in the former 2004 Olympic sport complex in Athens. ; Ibrahim al-Hussein will carry the Olympic Flame in Athens as part of the torch relay for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The symbolic gesture is meant to show solidarity with the world’s refugees at a time when millions are fleeing war and persecution worldwide and an it’s an immense privilege for the a 27 year old refugee from Syria who once dreamed of competing in the Olympics and whose athletic career was interrupted by the war and an injury that cost him part of his right leg after a bombing in his home town of Deir ez-Zor. "It is an honor," Ibrahim says of bearing the Olympic flame. "Imagine achieving one of your biggest dreams. Imagine that your dream of more than 20 years is becoming a reality." Ibrahim commits himself to a rigorous training schedule. Three days per week, He swims with ALMA, a Greek nonprofit organization for athletes with disabilities. His training is held in the former 2004 Olympic sport complex in Athens. He is also part of a wheelchair basketball league that meets five times per week and travels throughout the country for games. Ibrahim does all this despite working a 10-hour overnight shift at a cafe in Anthoupoli, an Athens suburb 30 minutes by train from his home. "It's not just a game for me," Ibrahim says of his commitment to athletics. "It's my life."

Syrian refugee Ibrahim Al Hussein has described 2016 as the best year of his life and said the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games were a big part of that.

Al Hussein, who had part of his leg blown off in a rocket attack when he went to the aid of a friend during the civil war in his home country, was one of two athletes that made up the first ever Independent Paralympic Athletes (IPA) team at Rio 2016.

Ahead of and during Rio 2016, the team was supported financially by the IPC’s international partner Allianz SE who helped fund the cost of participation in Rio for the IPC team. Al Hussein and teammate Shahrad Nasajpour competed in the Games under the International Paralympic flag. The pair was the first team to march and led the parade of athletes at the Opening Ceremony on 7 September.

During the Games Al Hussein set two personal bests competing in the 50m and 100m freestyle swimming events. This, he said, left him with great memories of Rio and enabled him to meet many new friends – which he says is far better than winning a medal.

Nasajpour is originally from Iran and now lives in the United States. He competed in the F37 discuss event and finished 11th. He said it was like a dream for him to make it to Rio for the Paralympic Games.

In addition to Allianz SE’s financial support of the IPA team, Allianz Worldwide Care provided insurance cover for the team whilst in Rio.

Xavier Gonzalez, IPC Chief Executive Officer, said: “I would like to thank our international partner Allianz SE for their tremendous support of the Independent Paralympic Athletes team.

“Thanks to their continued support of the Paralympic Movement,  two refugee athletes have been able to fulfil their dream to compete at a Paralympic Games in front of millions of spectators and billions of TV viewers.

“Allianz SE’s support has helped the world see the ability of Paralympic sport to bring about social change through the story of this team and the two athletes.

“We are delighted these athletes have been able to push their bodies to the ultimate limits here in Rio and really transform everybody they’ve come into contact with as a result.”

Tony Sainsbury, a five-time Chef de Mission of the British Paralympic team, served as the Chef de Mission for the IPA Team in Rio. He said: “Unfortunately there are many conflicts around the world.

“Hopefully, in refugee camps around the world, refugees with impairments will see that opportunities do exist.”

In addition to Allianz SE’s support of the IPA team, the company was also the first corporate partner to support the #FilltheSeats campaign. Their support acted as a catalyst to raising $450,000 to take 15,000 Brazilian children to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.