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article imageUN chief vows to back refugee team as Olympic flame stops in Geneva

By AFP     Apr 29, 2016 in Sports

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Friday he will not remain neutral at the Rio Games, pledging to cheer for a team of refugees as the Olympic flame stopped by the United Nations in Geneva.

Ban, a South Korean national who was himself displaced by fighting during the Korean War, applauded International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach for the inclusion of a team of up to 10 refugees at the 2016 games.

"I welcome the refugee team, and I will be cheering for them with all my might," Ban said at the UN's European headquarters.

As the world grapples with one of its biggest refugee crises since World War II, Ban voiced hope that the unique group of athletes will help people see refugees "the way they deserve to be seen: as talented, strong and inspiring people".

About 40 refugees have been identified by the IOC as possible contenders in various sports, with a selection to be made in June, a UN refugee agency source told AFP.

The Olympic flame was lit last week in a 2,600-year-old temple in Ancient Olympia, and on Wednesday it was handed to Rio Games officials, setting off the 100-day countdown to the August 5 opening ceremony.

The flame will be on display over the weekend at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, the seat of the IOC, and will arrive in Brasilia on May 3.

Some 12,000 torchbearers will then carry the flame through over 300 Brazilian cities ahead of the opening ceremony.

Brazil's preparations have been overshadowed by a deep political crisis but Brazilian and IOC officials insist preparations are ahead of schedule and will not be affected by the upheaval.

Bach acknowledged on Friday that "Brazil is in a difficult situation", but vowed that the games would be a success.

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