The Refugee Olympics Team's Superfan Is... Creative

@RefugeeGuy11 will do anything for his favorite ten athletes, including making terrible memes, cringe-worthy t-shirts, and appointing himself the “11th member of Team Refugee.”

Catastrophilia aside, the most fascinating part of the Rio Olympics is without a doubt the Refugee Olympic Team. Coming from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the athletes competing under the Olympic flag were brought together by the International Olympic Committee to raise awareness about the global refugee crises but to also act as heroes of hope and determination amidst unfathomable circumstances. As they share incredible stories of willpower and survival, the ten outstanding men and women have garnered much attention in the press, but when it comes to full-fledged support, one particular fan sticks out:

Meet @RefugeeGuy11, an unflappable Instagram and Twitter user who’s made it his personal mission to spread the gospel of his favorite olympians. The self-proclaimed “11th member of Team Refugee” has made handmade shirts, created a hand signal for fans of the team, designed a slew of misguided memes, and run his own swimming practice. His tweets and graphics are cringe-worthy—like when he tweeted repeatedly about being “totally confused about it being winter in Rio” and complained that he couldn’t sleep because he was worried no one would see his shirt designs—but when it comes to pluck, few fans compare.

But even though his Twitter, created a little less than a month ago, has only five followers (including us), and his social media skills leave quite a bit to be desired, @RefugeeGuy11, like his Olympics heroes, isn’t giving up. Posting new memes alongside videos of himself every few hour on Instagram, his commitment to the team is charming, if a little weird, and never less than inspiring. Apparently after trying to arrange corporate sponsorships for the team, the superfan traveled to Rio to get the message out about “Team Little R.” 

Upon arriving in Rio, he tweeted about the mugging of Ryan Lochte saying “Let’s end inequality and violence”—well, it was with good intentions... He also employed the Trumpian hashtag #ManyPeopleAreSaying, but used it with heart: “#ManyPeopleAreSaying refugees don’t contribute anything great to their host countries” he wrote. In a post-Brexit world, where this guy could actually become president of the United States, no sentiment is truly trivial. However socially inept @RefugeeGuy11 may be, it’s the intention that’s key. Deeply committed to the Refugee Olympic Team, he’s worked tirelessly to organize grassroots support for the team and the issues it represents.

Except "he's" not a random guy at all, but in fact a fictional persona created by a few social media subversives who wanted to find a distinct way to support the team. @RefugeeGuy11 is the brainchild of Eugene Kotlyarenko, the filmmaker behind acclaimed webcam series Skydiver, and Maritza Yoes, brand strategist and originator of LACMA's viral Snapchat. Teaming up with director Nick Corirossi and actor Nelson Cheng, who plays @RefugeeGuy11, the duo created this project to bring discussions about the refugee crisis down to the personal level and hoped to inspire authentic, unpolished fandom. And, well, it worked on us.

The creators have the same goal as @RefugeeGuy11, Yoes tells the Creators Project. They all want to find an audience for the refugee team who “can appreciate their perseverance and determination in a unique way.” She hopes that their ‘obsessive character’ helps make it clearer, in “his own weird and special way,” that the Refugee team are just “normal people escaping horrific circumstances.”

"This is our attempt to reach people who might love the team's story but don't care about sports," says Kotlyarenko. "And a way of doing something in the social media space that doesn't feel straightforward and stale."

The project was deeply personal for Kotlyarenko, himself a refugee from the USSR. The artist-director-writer tells how he’s been ‘horrified’ by the backlash against the refugee crisis. “When I first heard about the team,” he recalls, “I was really amazed and inspired and just so happy they existed.” Understanding the difficulty of serious subject matter, Kotlyarenko wanted instead to bring a certain levity to the conversation. “Comedy helps bridge empathy gaps,” he explains.


#yusramardini #yusramemes #olympicmemes #root4refugees #yourule #thanxalot #robertdeniro

A photo posted by 11th member of Team Refugee (@refugeeguy11) on

You can (and should) support @RefueeGuy11 on Twitter and Instagram. We did. The Olympics end this Sunday.


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