Olympic champions ignite Olympic dream among three refugees

Three refugees are being trained in air rifle to help them compete in Tokyo; Niccolo Campriani and Abhinav Bindra are associated with the endeavour.

Niccolo Campriani and Abhinav Bindra with the refugees and others during a Bengaluru training stint. Photo: Special Arrangement

It is a project that goes beyond sport. It was started by the three-time Olympic champion Niccolo Campriani of Italy, and has been sustained by India’s only individual Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra, through his Foundation.

The common link between the two Olympic champions is air rifle, and also the fact that they were being coached by the same set of experts, Gaby Buehlmann and her husband Heinz Reinkemeier.

After being engrossed about winning in sport all their lives, the two champions found that sport was not just about competing hard and winning. In a hard life, sport had the remarkable power to heal the wounds.

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Campriani chose three refugees — Khaoula, Mahdi and Luna — in collaboration with Swiss Immigration Authorities and started training them in air rifle, with 500 days to go for Tokyo Olympics, at the World Archery Excellence Centre in Lausanne. The target was to help the three learn a new sport and get to feel the Olympic atmosphere. They had to achieve the Minimum Qualifying Score of 595 to be eligible to participate in the Olympics.

Campriani, who won both the air rifle and 3-position gold medals in the Rio Olympics in 2016, did know about a refugee team. He was keen to make his contribution.

Power of sport

The Olympic Channel is making a five-part series on the project of Campriani, Taking Refuge, projecting the power of sport and its ability to transcend borders and connect the world.

After getting a taste of competition in the Italian and German championships, Mahdi achieved the minimum qualifying score for Tokyo in the Asian Championship in Doha. Mahdi and Khaoula also visited Bengaluru in December, and were trained in a special range, with the likes of two-time World Cup gold medallist Apurvi Chandela and coach Rakesh Manpat. They got to experience Indian culture apart from getting full body assessment and customised high performance training plans at the Abhinav Bindra Foundation.


Already, the Grammy award winning composer, Ricky Kej, has volunteered to make a theme song for the project and did the recording during the India visit of the athletes.

There are two more competitions ahead in Wroclaw and Pilsen where the athletes will get a chance to achieve the MQS and be eligible to compete in Tokyo Olympics.

Former world champion, Campriani, who had also won the silver in air rifle in the London Olympics, apart from his three gold, has put his own aspirations to defend the Olympic titles on the back-burner, to train the three. He believes that the next Olympic champion would continue with the cause.

Already, Bindra, who is a member of the athletes commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has shown the way by generating the funds to make the project an inspiration for everyone.

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