Birmingham, (Asian independent) Refugee athletes have emerged as a special category of participants in multi-discipline sports extravaganza like Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has put in a total programme to select such sportspersons and help them participate in the mega events under its own banner.
Though there is no separate contingent or team of refugee sportspersons participating in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, there are athletes who have sought asylum in other countries and have now turned into medal hopefuls for their adopted nation.
Ana Godinez Gonzalez was one such sportsperson who came to Canada from Mexico when she was very young and has now become their main hope and medal contender in wrestling.
According to her, she thought she was going to Disneyland when her father had told her the family were spending a week on holiday with Mickey, Minnie and Co in the magic kingdom — in fact they were fleeing their native Mexico for their own safety to start a new life in Canada.
Godinez Gonzalez was seven years old when her world turned upside down. She arrived in Canada with no friends and barely a word of English but, 16 years later, she is representing her adopted country in the 62kg wrestling division at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. She is among the favourites for gold.
The family-owned a car dealership and an ice cream business in Aguascalientes, central Mexico, but corruption was rife.
“One day some people called and said, ‘if you don’t give us money or cars we are going to kidnap your children,” Godinez Gonzalez said. “They knew where we lived and went to school.
“My dad decided to not tell us where we were heading. He said, ‘we are going on vacation to Disneyland’. And then we landed in Canada.
“My older sister was 15. She had a boyfriend and school friends, and she did judo. It was harder for her.
“When we first came to Canada my dad hired a bodyguard. He paid for his whole trip – everything – to take care of us.
“Once we landed we ended up living in a hotel in a not very nice area. It was a party place. We ended up staying there for six months with zero English.
“We had no friends, we were just trying to do our own activities. We tried to communicate with signs when we were playing,” she was quoted as saying by the Games News Service.
Godinez Gonzalez soon integrated into Surrey, British Columbia, immersing herself in sport. In May, she won the Pan American Wrestling Championships in the 62kg category — one of her older sisters Karla took 55kg gold — and Ana is also the Under-23 world champion.
“I never thought I would travel the world,” Godinez Gonzalez said. “I thought I was going to be in Mexico for my whole life. I didn’t even know there was so much to see in the world.
“I didn’t know you could make a career out of sport. We were children on the street in Mexico going up to people in cars to try to get them to buy ice cream.
“Where I am now is just another world. I’m excited about the competition here. Until earlier this year I didn’t know the Commonwealth Games existed.”
Wrestling at Birmingham 2022 takes place on August 5-6 at Coventry Arena. There are 12 weight categories, six for men and six for women, all in freestyle.
Canada and India have dominated Commonwealth Games wrestling competitions since the sport made its debut at the inaugural Games in Hamilton, Canada, in 1930.
Canada has won 135 medals, 66 gold, 43 silver and 26 bronze. India have collected 102 medals, 43 gold, 37 silver and 22 bronze.