Editorial: An Olympic Effort

27 July 2016 Amy Hetherington

Editorial: An Olympic Effort

This time last year, Yusra Mardini and her elder sister Sarah fled their home in Damascus, travelling through Lebanon and then Turkey. There they caught a rubber dinghy with another 20 Syrian asylum seekers on a perilous crossing of the Aegean Sea.

When the boat’s motor seized and started taking on water, the sisters and another woman jumped into the water. For three-and-a-half hours they swam alongside the dinghy, guiding it to the Greek island of Lesbos. From there, Yusra and Sarah eventually found a new home in Berlin, Germany.

Now, a year later, the 18-year-old is swimming for Olympic gold in Rio. Yusra is one of 10 athletes competing for the newly created Refugee Olympic Team, marching under the official five-ring Olympic flag. Her teammates include another swimmer from Syria, an Ethiopian marathon runner, two Congolese judokas and five South Sudanese runners.

“I want to represent all the refugees because I want to show everyone that, after the pain, after the storm, comes calm days,” Yusra told the UNHCR. “I want to inspire them to do something good in their lives.”

It’s the Olympic spirit at its best, and one of the reasons I’ll be happily sleep-deprived for two weeks, fighting the time difference to support the athletes.  

As former Big Issue editor Alan Attwood writes (‘Road to Rio’, p22), every four years the Olympic Games offer us hope through extraordinary feats of human endeavour. Not only do they distract us from the mundane, and also the madness of 2016, they shine a light on humanity at a time when the number of people displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution is at a historically record high – the UNHCR Global Trends Report puts the figure at 65.3 million people.

“This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis,” said IOC president Thomas Bach.


In this edition, we also look at Australia’s other favourite national pastime: food. TV cooks have come a long way since Peter Russell-Clarke g’dayed his way through a five-minute cooking segment before Inspector Gadget every afternoon of my 1980s youth. Now we’re gorging on hours of reality cooking shows. Chefs have become mononymous stars – Heston, Jamie, Nigella. Our kids talk about “plating up”, ask what “protein” we’re eating for dinner. We’re hash-tagging our edible creations all over the internet; you are what you tweet.

On p14, The Big Issue’s former associate editor Melissa Cranenburgh shares lots of laughs with The Katering Show comedians Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney as they take on the sacred cows of cooking culture, and asks, has foodie fetishisation gone too far?

While this new age of the aspirational foodie inspires us to culinary heights greater than an Adriano Zumbo croquembouche, writer Sonia Nair (p18) reports not everyone is capable of feeding their families. More than two million Australians seek food relief every year.

How do we improve food equity and reduce wastage? Can we strike a balance between our latest food-trend fixations and widespread hunger? After all, food is central to culture and celebration. It makes memories and brings us together. And so we offer you this edition as food for thought.

Amy Hetherington, Editor

This article first appeared in Ed#517 of The Big Issue.