Mika Zibanejad: Swedish International Ice Hockey player and NHL player

Zibanejad’s father Mehrdad left Iran after the Shah was overthrown, fleeing to Sweden, and was once jailed before leaving Iran for writing a magazine article on existentialism. Mehrdad was a high level tennis and volleyball player in his youth, and as a result introduced his son to tennis at a young age. However, Mika was far more interested in ice hockey, a sport virtually unknown in his father’s native country, but one of the biggest sports in Sweden. His father did not mind, stating “It’s important to start in some sport,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which.” Mika has gone on to win a Gold medal for Sweden in the World Junior Championships and has played over 400 games in the NHL, the world’s best league.

Luol Deng: British International Basketball player and NBA player

Before becoming one of the best Basketball players in the world and NBA All-Star, Luol Deng and his family fled Sudan to escape the Second Sudanese Civil War when he was four years old. First they went to Egypt, and after five years the United Kingdom granted them political asylum, at which point they moved to London. On arrival in the UK he spoke no English, but within two years was fluent in both English and playground football! Deng has said that while “No matter what, I’m always Sudanese”, he personally feels English, and captained Britain at the 2012 Olympics, where they achieved a respectable ninth place, despite being the lowest ranked team to begin the tournament. Deng has devoted much of his spare time to charity work, especially in regards to helping refugees.

Sir Mo Farah: Multiple Olympic Gold Medallist

A long time before becoming a four time Olympic champion and being Knighted by the Queen, Mo Farah and his family fled Somalia during his childhood to avoid persecution. Firstly, the family went to Djibouti as refugees, and then at age eight to Britain. Six years later Farah had still not mastered the English language and was frequently in trouble at school. However, at this point a sports teacher identified his talent for running, and through running Farah gained the focus and determination that helped prevent him “go off the rails”, and just months later Farah was winning his first English schools title. He would finish his high-school career with five. His high-school sports teacher Alan Watkinson would later be best man at the British athletic legends wedding, showing just how much of a positive impact sport had on Farah’s life.

Fabrice Muamba: ex-Premier League player

The ex-Premier league footballer is probably best known for the unfortunate way his career came to an end, with a cardiac arrest during a game meaning he had to retire. His story however began in war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country his family fled when he was 11 years old. Muamba has said that for him football was an escape from the grim realities of life when in the Congo, and the sport also helped him integrate once he arrived in cold, rainy London with no English ability, “Football was great for me because there were no language barriers”. It was not only the football field he excelled, his dedication extended into the classroom where he was an excellent student, managing to garner excellent exam results just a few years after moving to the UK.

Shefki Kuqi: ex-Finnish international footballer and ex-Premier League player

He may have made over 60 appearances for the Finnish national football team, and played for more than 15 clubs in a 20+ year professional career, but Kuqi’s early life was spent in Yugoslavia, a country he and his family left when he was 12 to avoid ethnic persecution. Upon arrival in Finland his first home in his new land was a refugee camp, where he improved his fitness with cross-country skiing. Despite his tough path he is eternally grateful for the opportunities his adopted homeland gave him. Kuqi also credits football with helping him adapt to his new life, “When you are a foreigner, one of the great ways to get an insight into people is football. For me it was a massive, massive help. Football is just one language – you understand each other.”

Victor Moses: Nigerian international footballer and Premier League player

Moses may now be a regular in the Chelsea line-up and have a Premier League title and African Cup of Nations winners medal, but you will be hard pressed to find a player in his position who had a tougher road behind him. At just 11 years old Moses found himself an orphan after both his parents were killed during religious clashes, and came to Britain as an asylum seeker weeks later. Understandably he struggled to adapt at times, but once his English improved and he found friend’s life got easier. Just two years later the Nigerian was signed by Premier League club Crystal Palace, who also placed him in one of the best private schools in London. His advice to young players from his experiences, “Talent alone won't take you there, hard work is what is going to help you."

Guor Mading Maker: South Sudanese runner

The marathon runner hit headlines in 2012, when he ran under the Olympic flag in London. He stated that running under the flag of Sudan, the country he sought refuge from, would be a betrayal of the people who died during the Sudanese civil war. A conflict in which he lost eight brothers and sisters and 28 family members, and for a time was forced into slave labour and beaten unconscious with a rifle. Maker came to the USA at age 15, and credits joining his high school track team with helping him integrate and improve his English. He eventually ended up living with a team-mate and their family for several years, and considers them “family” to this day. He recently joined the US Airforce to serve his adopted homeland, and got his wish to run under the South Sudanese flag at the 2016 Olympics, where he was the new nations flag bearer.

Meb Keflezighi: Olympic silver medallist Marathon runner, fled Eritrea to USA

The Eritrean war of independence from Ethiopia lasted for almost thirty years, spanned across four decades, and had over 200,000 causalities. Keflezighi and his family escaped the conflict when he was aged 10, first moving to Italy, and then to the USA. His adaptation to a new way of life was difficult at first, and he was bullied at school as a result. Keflezighi only took up running to get a good grade, but found that, “All of a sudden, I made friends. It gave me confidence, and was an ice breaker. Running is just one ice breaker, for others it could be another sport, dancing, music, science, art, etc. Finding something you are passionate about will help you adjust to a new country and make friends.” Seventeen years after arriving in the USA he stood on the second step of the Olympic podium in Athens, and would also go on to win the 2009 New York City marathon.

Fawad Ahmed: Australian international cricketer, fled Pakistan age 28 after being persecuted by religious extremists for playing the sport he loved

Sport is full of “Late-bloomers”, players who developed later than their peers. But Fawad Ahmed is an extreme case, and a case that without seeking asylum would possibly never have come to fruition. Ahmed had been a solid if uninspiring bowler in Pakistan, and made his living playing the sport he loved and coaching young players. He was forced from his home nation at age 28 when repeatedly threatened by the Taliban due to his involvement in coaching and his off-season work for an organisation involved campaigned for education for girls, access to clean water and vaccinations for polio and hepatitis. His arrival in Australia not only may have saved his life, but was also a springboard to excel in the sport he loved. Within three years of arrival he was representing his new nation internationally, making his debut at age 31.

Hamid Qadri: English cricketer with bright future who fled Afghanistan as a child

At age 17 most teenagers are still struggling to get out of bed in the morning. But Hamid Qadri is not a normal teenager. He and his family fled Afghanistan to the UK when he was 10 years old, to join his father who had previously left Kandahar province. Upon his arrival in England he discovered the sport of cricket, obsessively watching Youtube videos of his favourite players in order to teach himself to bowl. Six years after his arrival in England he became the first player born in the 21st century to play professional cricket in the UK, and is almost certainly a future star for England. Qadri has also excelled in school, and intends to combine his cricket with achieving a University level education, stating that “Education gives you the knowledge to look at the world from a different perspective so I enjoy my studies.”

Nadia Nadim: Danish international football captain, fled Afghanistan when father executed by Taliban

Nadim is regarded as one of the best women’s football players in the world, but the path she travelled to get to where she is today is one that belies belief. Her and her family left Afghanistan when she was twelve years old, after her father was executed by the Taliban. They intended to travel to Britain where they had relatives, but were dumped in Randers, Denmark by a truck driver. Kicking a ball around at the refugee centre she realised she had a talent for the sport, and became obsessed with football, which helped with her integration. "I played with everything that you can kick. That's what made me fall in love with the game. We could not really speak the language and we didn't have the same clothes as other kids. But no one really cared when we were playing." Nadim not only excels on the pitch, she can speak nine languages and intends to be a reconstructive surgeon when she retires from football.

Asmir Begovic: Bosnian international footballer and Premier League player. Family fled Bosnia to Germany then Canada during Yugoslav war.

When you hear Asmir Begovic speak you would be forgiven for thinking that the player regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world had spent his whole life in North America. But his story starts in war torn Bosnia, where he and his family fled from in 1991, when Asmir was four years old. They first moved to Germany, and then when he was 10 years old to Edmonton in Canada. His father had to give up his own footballing career to work as a plasterer to earn money for the family. Ten years later he made the tough decision to play for his country of birth over his adopted homeland, and he later represented Bosnia in the 2014 World Cup. He devotes much of his spare time to his Asmir Begovic Foundation, which aims to create new sports facilities for children, “It’s not their fault if they’ve grown up through corruption and bad politics.”

Dejan Lovren: Croatian international footballer and Premier League player. Family fled Bosnia to Germany.

Now a star Premier League defender and an integral piece of the Croatian national football team, Lovren’s back story is an interesting one. After fleeing Yugoslavia as refugees with his family at age three they settled in Germany, where he quickly adapted to life, made friends and was happy. However, when the war was over the family was forced to move back to Yugoslavia, to the state of Croatia, where Lovren struggled to fit in, his family struggled for money and he was bullied due to his German accent. Lovren still considers Germany his second home. It was in Munich that he fell in love with the sport that he now calls his profession, and when his family moved to Croatia he credits football with helping him win the respect of his peers and with building his confidence.

Wojtek Wolski: Canadian international ice hockey player whose family fled Poland before the Berlin Wall fell

Wolski’s story is an inspiring one. Just months ago he pulled on Canada’s jersey in the Winter Olympics, despite having broken his neck in a terrifying on ice incident just sixteen months earlier. But Wolski has been overcoming adversity his whole life. His family fled communist ruled Poland to West Germany, where they lived in a refugee camp before they moved again to Canada to join other family members who had also relocated for a better life. He fell in love with the sport of Ice Hockey in his new home, initially playing in hand-me-down skates from his big brother that were too big for his feet, and has credited the sport with helping him get through multiple tough personal situations – including depression - over the course of his life.

Erislandy Lara: American boxer who tried to gain refugee status multiple time in Brazil and Germany, before fleeing Cuba for the USA. World Champion at middleweight.

Lara was already a high-level sportsman before becoming a refugee. Growing up in boxing mad Cuba Lara ascended to the height most can only dream of, and by the time he was 22 years old he was World Amateur Boxing Champion at Welterweight. However, he began to feel he had no future in his homeland. First he tried to claim refugee status in Brazil in 2007, but was captured, returned to Cuba, imprisoned and banned from boxing. A year later he made an audacious attempt to flee that proved successful, hiking through swamps to reach a speedboat to take him to Mexico, before flying to Germany and then America. Within six years he was World Champion at Light Middleweight, and last year became a US citizen, stating that “Living in here in the States has been a tremendous blessing to me and my family." Lara said. "With hard work, and the help of many good people around me, I've been able to provide for my loved ones.”

Abdi Jama: GB international wheelchair basketball player, played in Summer 2012 Paralympics. Fled Somalia during wars.

Jama is one of the best wheelchair basketball players in the world. He and his family fled Somalia when he was six years old amid the turmoil of the Somali civil war, and initially struggled to adapt to his new life in Liverpool, especially the cold weather! A keen sportsman since childhood, he played football, cricket, basketball and athletics. At age 14 he fell from a window and was left paralysed from the chest down. For many that would be the end of their sporting career, but Jama discovered wheelchair basketball at a taster session at school, and credits the sport with keeping him out of trouble as a youth, “It was one of the best things that could have happened as it meant I could spend my time focusing on improving my game, rather than getting into trouble with some of my peers.” The man who ran the taster session? Ade Orogbemi, who Jama would captain at the 2012 Paralympics.

Choi Kwang-hyouk: South Korean sledge hockey Paralympic Bronze medallist

Choi Kwang-hyouk grew up in poverty in North Korea, and by the time he was nine years old was alone on the streets after his parents divorced, and his grandmother who had been caring for him died. He sold ice cream to train passengers to earn enough money to survive, but one day while riding between stations on top of a train he fell, and the train ran over his foot. His left leg was amputated as a result. Four years later, after being discriminated against relentlessly he was smuggled to South Korea, arriving as a refugee. He struggled to adapt, and spent years chain-smoking and playing video games. However, while studying prosthetics manufacturing at University a staff member recommended he try para ice hockey, and his obsessive smoking and gaming transformed into an obsession with the sport. Three years after taking up the sport he won a bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Paralympics, which took place in his adopted homeland.

Khalida Popal: Afghan footballer

Popal was a pioneer for women’s football in Afghanistan. She grew up playing football due to her mother’s influence, who as a PE teacher taught her that playing sport was not just fun, but empowering as well. As a result of her passion she was bullied and harassed, but did not give up playing. Her determination meant she became the first captain of the Afghanistan women’s football team. However, her increased profile meant that death threats from the Taliban became common, and she fled her home country at age 32, first to India, then to Norway, before being granted residency in Denmark after spending close to a year in an asylum centre. A career ending knee injury meant her career was over not long after starting playing again in Denmark, but she now works for her organisation – Girl Power – which uses sport and movement to empower and improve inclusion and social participation amongst minority groups.

Adut Bulgak: Canadian international women’s basketball player

Bulgak’s South Sudanese family were displaced from their homeland before the young WBNA player was even born. She took her first breaths in Kenya, being a refugee from the second she left the womb. Her family moved to Canada when she was six years old, and she settled in quickly, learning English quickly and falling in love with multiple sports, starting with football, then volleyball, before she finally found basketball. Bulgak excelled at the sport from day one, and has credited sport with helping her get through difficult moments in her life, such as the death of two of her brothers, calling sport her “safe haven” during the worst moments in her life. She was drafted in the first round of the 2016 WNBA draft, represents Canada internationally, and in the same year as being drafted graduated from Florida State University in Sociology and Criminology.

Bendere Oboya: Australian 400m runner

In just a few weeks’ time Bendere Oboya will be the youngest member of Australia’s Commonwealth games team, and will get a chance to compete on home soil in Queensland. Oboya is only 17 years old, and one of the fastest women in the world for her age. Her story however began not in Australia, but in Ethiopia. Oduya’s family left the land of her birth when she was only an infant, and after some time in Kenya found refuge in Australia when she was three years old. She was a shy, quiet child who struggled to make friends, but always had a passion for athletics, rooted in watching runners from her birth country on television with her father. Last year she won the Commonwealth Youth Games Gold medal at 400m, and her 51.94 personal best is already third best of all-time for an Australian.