How refugee Dorsa Yavarivafa fled Iran for her love of badminton

3 weeks ago 79

Updated

May 23, 2024, 04:25 PM

Published

May 23, 2024, 04:10 PM

LONDON - On a rainy November morning in 2018, 15-year-old Dorsa Yavarivafa and her mother left Tehran for Turkey with fake German passports – the first thing she grabbed when she was told they were leaving at 4 a.m. was her badminton bag.

The pair flew a month later to Germany, then to Belgium and eventually to France. Yavarivafa would be jailed three times -- once entirely alone for a day, crying and taken from her mother -- before she made it to Birmingham, England at the end of 2019 and finally found a home.

She said she fled her country for two reasons: her mother wanted to change her religion and Yavarivafa had repeatedly been rejected by the national badminton team without being told why.

"I was really scared because I didn't know what was going to happen to me," said Yavarivafa, who will turn 21 in July while competing at the Paris 2024 Games as part of the largest refugee Olympic team to date, with 36 athletes from 11 countries.

"I didn't know where I was going. My mum just said we were going to go to another country, but she never told me how or where," Yavarivafa added.

"It was all worth it. Now, that I think back about it -- all that suffering is over so I'm really happy now."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced its first refugee team at the Rio 2016 Games with 10 athletes to raise awareness of the issue as hundreds of thousands of people were pouring into Europe from the Middle East and elsewhere escaping conflict and poverty.

"(My parents) were really proud when we heard that I got accepted," Yavarivafa said. "We were all crying... just really a relief, a relief of anxiety."

Yavarivafa was introduced to the sport by her father, who sells car parts and stayed in Iran in case his wife and daughter needed to go back.

"He did come here about six months ago. That's w...

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