Over a billion people live in Africa and many more Africans live around the world. But there were only six athletes representing Africa at the Beijing Winter Olympics this year. Can the International Olympic Committee get more Africans into the Winter Olympics?
This is the question that some African athletes were asking themselves during the last days of the Beijing 2022 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 of the Earth.
The IOC says it is trying to help athletes from smaller nations and those living in warm countries to compete in the Winter Olympics. It gives financial assistance to athletes around the world in the hope that they can improve in their sport. However, some athletes question the distribution of funding. Of more than 400 people helped, there were 295 Europeans and only 16 Africans.
Even with the support, the number of Africans at the Olympics this year has halved 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 mountain 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 bobsleigh or skeleton, unlike in 2018.
Adeagbo, the Nigerian skeleton racer, asked if this is an Olympics for the world or only for Europeans?
Perhaps the best way to ensure more African athletes compete in the Winter Olympics is to ensure there are more examples of Africans in events.
This year, the East African nation of Eritrea had an Olympian in Beijing, Shannon-Ogbnai Abeda. Abeda finished 39and of the 46 athletes who competed in the giant slalom event on February 13. Although Abeda did not claim victory in his event, he was delighted to learn that an Eritrean living in Germany plans to take up cross-country skiing and aim for the 2026 Winter Games.
Abeda said the Eritrean skier’s apprenticeship has been worth all the hard work he has put in ahead of this year’s Olympics.
One of the reasons there were so few Africans at the Olympics is that the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, made it harder for athletes from smaller nations to to qualify this year compared to 2018.
The organization said it would reconsider qualification rules ahead of the 2026 Olympics.
Adeagbo said African athletes are “equally able” as athletes from the rest of the world if they receive the support they need. She said she hopes the lack of African representation this year will help “everyone…think about a different path.”
James Macleod is the director of an IOC program that offered help 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 are very few, so I’m disappointed.
Abeda was born in Canada after his parents fled the war in Eritrea. He said the money he received from the IOC – $1,500 a month – helped him pay for his living expenses, coaching, training and equipment. He thinks more Africans could participate in the Winter Olympics with similar support.
With skeleton sleds costing $4,000 and bobsleds costing around $40,000, funding is important. Adeagbo said the Olympics shouldn’t just be for “privilegedand these are the things we need to have real conversations on.”
The IOC, along with another Olympic expert, said the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Africa’s progress at the Winter Olympics. Cobus Rademeyer from a university in South Africa wrote about Africans at the Olympics. He said the continent should come back stronger in 2026. He called the participation of Africans ” inspiration for many.”
Carlos Maeder from Ghana was adopted by Swiss parents. He competed in the giant slalom, but failed to finish. He is 43 years old. He said he would continue skiing for as long as it takes to find Ghanaians who can follow in his footsteps.
“I hope these games open the door,” he said. “It’s not just about the African continent: we are spread all over the world. It is therefore important that our continent is represented.
I am Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learn English based on an Associated Press report.
words in this story
athlete –not. a trained or gifted person for sport
Rainbow –not. about people of different cultures and races
adopt – v. legally fostering a child of other parents as one’s own
to qualify – v. pass an exam or do something that entitles someone to compete
able –adj.. able to do something
critical –adj.. something extremely important
privileged –adj.. have special rights or benefits that most people don’t have
inspiration –not. something that makes someone want to do something or gives someone an idea of what to do or create