Syrian Refugee Making His Mark on Swedish Sports

After staging a 45 km run to draw attention to refugee issues, long-distance runner Ahmad Jassem may have the chance to compete for the 2018 Olympic qualifiers

Ahmad al-Jassem, a young Syrian athlete, won first place in his group in the 10 km race in the athletics championships in Stockholm after a tough and difficult race with more than 3,000 contestants from different Swedish cities.

Jassem will have to compete again in two months, but if he succeeds he will have the chance to qualify for the 2018 Olympic Games next year.

The Syrian, who has been in Sweden for a year and a half, garnered attention for his outstanding sporting talent after running from his new home in Sodertalje province to the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm. Jassem ran 45 km in support of a sit-in opposing a law that would cancel temporary residence grants for new refugees in Sweden.

Born in 1989 in the eastern suburbs of Deir-ez-Zor, Jassem was involved in sports from an early age, especially running and endurance. While in high school, he moved with his family to the Damascus suburb of Daraya to complete his studies.

Despite joining sports clubs in Damascus, Jassem did not have the opportunity to shine because the sons of officers and officials were given the opportunity to compete at the expense of other club members. Speaking to Zaman al-Wasl, he explained that he and other athletes were marginalized in these clubs, leading him to continue his education rather than dedicate himself to sports.

But his desire to continue his education became impossible after the Islamic State (ISIS) entered Deir-ez-Zor and he was forced to flee to Turkey. Jassem remained in Turkey for around one year before he braved death and crossed the sea on a rubber boat to Greece. From there he continued to Germany, and made his way to Sweden. After settling in, Jassem began training, and after a month he managed to out-perform several well-accomplished Swedes.

Later, following a decision by Swedish authorities to stop granting refugees residencies, Jassem decided to draw attention to the issue by running a 45 km run from Sodertalje to Parliament Square in the capital. The move attracted the attention of Swedish media.

After his solo marathon, Jassem received offers from various Swedish clubs to join their running teams, but he refused their offers because they required athletes to compete under the club’s names in championships and competitions. He decided instead to continue his training alone so he can lift any flag without restrictions. Jassem explained that he wants to send a message to the world about his people who are dying, rather than lifting up a state’s flag or competing for a renowned club or institution.

Jassem hopes that his achievements will serve as an incentive for other Syrian youths to strive for their goals, especially in light of the frustrating news about Syria which its people experience daily.

This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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