- Written by Emmanuel Akidubwa and Isaiah Akinremi
- BBC Sport Africa, Lagos
A group of Nigerian youths became the first African curling team to compete in the Winter Youth Olympics, but their participation in the 2024 Gangwon Games was not guaranteed.
Their journey is an unlikely one, given Nigeria's lack of facilities, especially ice, and their struggles encapsulate the challenges of the continent's entry into winter sports.
The history-making teenagers qualified for the World Junior B Curling Championships in Lohja, Finland in December 2022, securing Nigeria's Olympic berth.
But the 13 months since have been on a slippery slope, with a lack of funding putting their participation in South Korea in jeopardy this month and the team left feeling frustrated and ignored despite their achievements. Ta.
Daniel Babalola, 17, a curler for the team known as Bloomsilas, told BBC Sport: “If we don't qualify for the Olympics, even though we qualify, all the hard work we've put in will be in vain.'' He told Africa about the battle. Arrived at Gangwon-do.
The International Olympic Committee provided funding for the transportation of three male and three female athletes, but not for two reserve athletes called up in case of injury or illness.
Also, crucially, there was no funding available for travel officials, coaches, or chaperones, which threatened the entire trip.
The frustration of not being able to participate in the Olympics was clearly visible on the faces of all the athletes, who feared that their dreams of competing in South Korea would be shattered.
The Nigerian team launched a fundraising campaign to raise 68,000 euros ($73,800), but very few funds were pledged.
Ultimately, the funds for the trip came from the personal savings of the team's parents and the president of the Nigeria Curling Federation (NCF), Daniel Damola Oyedepo.
“Our parents and coaches have worked hard to make our dream come true to fly the Nigerian flag at the Olympics,” said Oluwanimifise Wale Adeogun, 15, a team member.
No support from the Ministry of Sports
Participation in the curling competition in Gangwon Province, which begins Saturday, will be very different from the facilities in Nigeria that the team is accustomed to.
With no ice rink to practice on, they train on the carpet in their Lagos apartment.
“We started in 2018 and it's disappointing that no one is supporting us,” coach Imonite Kennedy told BBC Sport Africa.
“Despite the lack of a natural ice environment, we are getting by with floor curling, but we have not received support from the government to support our ambitions.”
Ismaila Abubakar, a senior official at Nigeria's Ministry of Sports Development, has made it clear that the sport will receive no support.
“It's not a major sport in Nigeria. We don't have the funding or facilities for the sport here,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
When asked about the team's struggle to qualify for the Winter Youth Olympics despite their historic qualification, he said:
“I don't have any money, so I can't do anything.”
Wale Adeogun became interested in curling after his mother told him about it on TV.
“It's a very competitive but friendly sport. Anyone can play it, whether you're as young as me or as old as my grandfather,” she said.
“When the coach needed a young curler for his youth team, I signed up and now I'm ready to become an Olympian.”
NCF President Oyedepo says the sport has been built from the ground up in the West African country.
“We achieved this success using primarily home-based athletes who had never been on the ice until qualifying,” he said.
“This is the first of its kind in the entire African region and is a historic achievement for us.”
Given the lack of facilities across the continent, some of African countries' leading winter athletes are trained overseas.
Ashley Ongonga, a Kenyan athlete based in Italy, will become the first female cross-country skier from the African continent to compete in the Winter Youth Olympics.
In monobob (individual bobsled), Jonathan Loulimi, Beya Moklani and Sophie Golbel will become the first Tunisian athletes to compete at the Winter Olympics, with Dali Shabonna also achieving the same honor for Lesotho.
All three are members of the PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation's New Horizons Academy, which supports athletes representing non-winter sports countries.
Algeria's Abdelahmane Bouderbala and South Africa's Lara Markthaler will also compete in alpine skiing.
Africa has an 'exciting' future for winter sports
Simidele Adeagbo is a prime example of how most African representatives access winter sports from outside the continent.
The 42-year-old was born in Canada but became the first Nigerian to compete in the Winter Olympics when he competed in the skeleton event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
Eight African countries are participating in these games, suggesting that winter sports are slowly gaining acceptance on a continent known for its climate limitations.
Mr Adegbo believes the prospects in Africa are exciting for the winter sector at all levels.
“The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world and we need representatives from all continents to come there,” Adeabo told BBC Sport Africa.
“Africans should be excited about the future, because the future is bright. You can already see that by looking at so many ideas being proposed by Africans to change the world and shape the future.”
Adeagbo, who runs the non-profit Simisree Foundation, focuses on supporting adolescent girls through leadership training skills and providing a platform for girls through sports.
“We definitely need support because athletes cannot do it on their own. This is really a very difficult journey,” Adegbo added.
NCF Chairman Oyedepo echoes Adaebo's optimism that Africa has the potential to become a regular centerpiece of winter sports, despite the challenges facing the continent.
“We are introducing floor curling to Africa, where every child can enjoy curling at home without having to get on the ice,” Damola told BBC Sport Africa. revealed.
“The World Curling Federation has already adopted floor curling as a competitive event under its watch, which will be an advantage for Africa as any country can compete and win medals.
“Nigeria has a great future in winter sports. It may take a little longer to do the impossible, but winter sports are now here to stay in Africa.”