All-female Athlete Refugee Team makes history in Belgrade under coach Janeth Jepkosgei

Monday, April 1st, 2024 14:13 | By
Perina Lokure Nakang, Esterina Irino Julius, Farida Abaroge and Janeth Jepkosgei on the course in Belgrade. PHOTO. Christel Saneh/World Athletics
Perina Lokure Nakang, Esterina Irino Julius, Farida Abaroge and Janeth Jepkosgei on the course in Belgrade. PHOTO. Christel Saneh/World Athletics

The World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Belgrade 24 witnessed a key moment with the inclusion of the World Athletics Athlete Refugee Team (ART) in the 10km senior women’s race.

This marked the first time an all-female ART participated in a World Championships event, featuring four athletes on the course.

Athletics Athlete Refugee lead

Led by Alice Annibali, the team aimed to motivate more female refugee athletes to engage in sports, believing it can positively impact their lives.

“The objective is to motivate more female refugee athletes to take up sport. If it's not athletics, then any other sport, but if it's athletics, even better. Because we believe that it can impact their lives in a positive way,” Alice Annibali told World Athletics.

Among the Belgrade quartet were Esterina Irino Julius, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, Perina Lokure Nakang, and Farida Abaroge, with an all-female support team led by Janeth Jepkosgei as head coach.

Abaroge, expressing her sentiments, highlighted the significance of representing the ART, emphasizing the newfound sense of freedom and recognition in competing at such a prestigious event.

“Without a nationality, you feel nothing. Even when you compete, you cannot be on a podium. But now I feel like I have a country. I know where I am going. Now I am competing like everybody else,” Abaroge said.

Athletics Athlete Refugee project

In 2022, Athletics for a Better World initiated an U20 project as part of the Athlete Refugee Team (ART) program, aiming to prepare a team for the World Athletics U20 Championships in Lima in August.

Spearheaded by Jepkosgei, the 2007 world 800m champion, the team includes athletes like Julius and Nakang, who transitioned from the U20 program to the senior level.

Nakang, aged 21, stands out as one of the early participants in the U20 project. Originally a refugee at Kenya’s Kakuma camp following her family's escape from South Sudan in 2016, Nakang's sporting journey began with football during her primary school years.

She later excelled in athletics trials in Kakuma, earning her selection to the ART. Notably, Nakang is also a recipient of the IOC Refugee Scholarship. Her international competition debut took place at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year, marking a significant milestone in her athletic career.

Jepkosgei believes this empowerment project will be a game changer. 

“I am so happy to coach the refugee team, this will motivate the women refugees,” she says. “Most of them have a belief that when you are a woman, your work is just to get married and have babies. Now we are trying to change the narrative.

“Coming here is also a motivation for those who are back in the group. You could see the excitement in Esterina as she was discovering more things.”

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