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Could More Africans Participate in Winter Olympics?

Shannon-Ogbnai Abeda finished 39th of 46 athletes who completed the giant slalom event on February 13. He is from Eritrea.
Shannon-Ogbnai Abeda finished 39th of 46 athletes who completed the giant slalom event on February 13. He is from Eritrea.
Could More Africans Participate in Winter Olympics?
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There are over 1 billion people living in Africa, and many other Africans living around the world. But there were only six athletes representing Africa in this year’s Beijing Winter Olympics. Can the International Olympic Committee get more Africans into the Winter Olympics?

That is the question some African athletes were asking over the final days of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

The Summer Olympics see “a rainbow of nations represented,” said Simidele Adeagbo, a skeleton racer who competed for Nigeria in 2018. After all, the sign of the Games, five interconnected rings, represents the five populated continents on Earth.

The IOC says it is trying to help the athletes of small nations, and those that live in warm-weather nations, participate in the Winter Olympics. It gives financial aid to athletes around the world with the hope that they will be able to get better at their sports. However, some athletes question the distribution of funding. Out of over 400 who received aid, there were 295 Europeans and only 16 Africans.

Even with the support, the number of Africans at this year’s Olympics decreased by half since the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. Athletes from Eritrea, Ghana, Morocco, Madagascar and Nigeria returned. Kenya, South Africa and Togo dropped out.

Skiing – both in the mountains and cross-country – was the only event with African athletes. Mialitiana Clerc, born in Madagascar and adopted by a French couple, was the only woman.

There were no Africans in bobsled or skeleton, unlike in 2018.

Adeagbo, the Nigerian skeleton racer, asked if it was an Olympics for the world, or just Europeans?

Perhaps the best way to make sure more athletes from Africa get into the winter Olympics is to make sure there are more examples of Africans in the events.

This year, the East African nation of Eritrea had one Olympian in Beijing, Shannon-Ogbnai Abeda. Abeda finished 39th of 46 athletes who competed in the giant slalom event on February 13. While Abeda was not victorious in his event, he was pleased to hear that an Eritrean living in Germany plans to practice cross-country skiing and aim for the 2026 Winter Games.

Abeda said learning of the Eritrean skier made all the work he did leading up to this year’s Olympics worth it.

One reason there were so few Africans at the Olympics is that the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, made it harder for athletes from small nations to qualify this year compared to 2018.

The organization said it will reconsider qualification rules before the 2026 Olympics.

Adeagbo said African athletes are “just as capable” as athletes from the rest of the world if they get the support they need. She said she hopes the lack of African representation this year will help “everyone … think about a different way forward.”

James Macleod is director of an IOC program that offered aid to athletes trying to qualify for Beijing. He only said: “There are five continents represented here.”

Four years ago, Abeda said, “it was really great to see more Africans. At these Games, there’s very little, so I am disappointed.”

Abeda was born in Canada after his parents escaped the war in Eritrea. He said the money he received from the IOC - $1,500 per month – paid for his living, training, coaching and equipment. He believes more Africans could compete in the Winter Olympics with similar support.

With skeleton sleds costing $4,000 and bobsleds costing about $40,000, funding is important. Adeagbo said the Olympics should not just be for the “privileged, and these are the things that we need to have real conversations about.”

The IOC, along with another Olympic expert, said the COVID-19 pandemic slowed Africa’s progress in the Winter Olympics. Cobus Rademeyer, from a university in South Africa, has written about Africans in the Olympics. He said the continent should return stronger in 2026. He called the participation of Africans “an inspiration for many.”

Carlos Maeder of Ghana was adopted by Swiss parents. He competed in the giant slalom, but failed to finish. He is 43. He said he will keep skiing as long as it takes to find Ghanaians who can follow in his footsteps.

“I hope that these games will be a door-opener,” he said. “It’s not just about the African continent: We are spread around the world. So that makes it important that our continent is represented.”

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based a report by the Associated Press.

What do you think the IOC needs to do to help more Africans get to the Winter Olympics? Write to us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

athlete n. a person who is trained or good at sports

rainbow n. relating to people of different cultures and races

adopt – v. to take in a child from other parents legally as your own

qualify – v. to pass an exam or do something that gives someone the right to compete

capable adj. able to do something

critical adj. something extremely important

privileged adj. having special rights or advantages that most people do not have

inspiration n. something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create