Beijing 2022: Akwasi Frimpong is ‘defenceless’ after change in rule

Beijing 2022: Akwasi Frimpong is ‘defenceless’ after change in rule

Beijing 2022: Akwasi Frimpong is 'defenceless' after change in rule
Beijing 2022: Akwasi Frimpong is ‘defenceless’ after change in rule.

Ghanaian skeleton racer Akwasi Frimpong says he feels “defenceless” after rule changes ultimately cost him a place at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

The 35-year-old qualified for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics under the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation’s (IBSF) continental quota system, which has since been abolished.

Frimpong and his coaches have asked his sport’s governing body and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make a last-minute adjustment to allow him to compete, but the IOC claims it is impossible to amend entry requirements at the last minute.

Frimpong, on the other hand, believes that in order for the sport to thrive, competitors from all continents must compete in the Games.

“People will never understand the uphill battle we as African athletes in winter sports face, just to participate,” Frimpong said.

“The people making the rules must make the changes now or it will be too late. Africa is watching and the world is taking notice.”

The IBSF told the BBC that the continental quota system had been replaced as part of a full revision of its qualification process.

  • Smaller nations have ‘huge disadvantage’

Beijing 2022: Akwasi Frimpong is 'defenceless' after change in rule

Frimpong, who has dual Dutch nationality, is based in Utah

Skeleton is a high-speed, technical sport in which competitors slide headfirst down an ice track at speeds of up to 80 mph.

Frimpong was on track to qualify for Beijing on a regular basis until a Covid infection pushed him out of the race at the crucial point at the beginning of last month.

He could have been able to attend the Games in prior years because every continent was practically promised some representation.

However, IBSF rules for 2022 prohibit that option, leaving Frimpong out in the cold and fearing that the change will be detrimental.

“The 2022 Winter Olympic Games quotas don’t encourage diversity in winter sport,” Frimpong told BBC Sport Africa.

“The quotas set in place put smaller nations at a huge disadvantage, especially Africa sliders working hard to represent a continent of more than 1.2 billion people.

“There is no level playing field when everyone else has almost a 100-year head start on their development.”

The Ghanaian said he felt “powerless and helpless” in the face of a situation where “Africa does not have a seat at the table”.

“Each continent should be able to send their very best in each event as long as the athlete is qualified to safely compete in his or her respective sport,” he added.

  • Frimpong calls for ‘solidarity and Olympic spirit’

In replacing the continental quota system, the IBSF said it had brought in “a more expansive development program that focused on emerging nations and equally on gender equity in supporting athletes on their qualification pathway”.

It pointed to the recent women’s skeleton World Cup, where athletes from Australia, Brazil and the Netherlands featured prominently.

Competitors from Ghana, Cambodia, Malaysia, Puerto Rico and Vietnam were among those who attended a recent development event in the USA, according to the IBSF website.

The IOC said it understood the difficulties faced by athletes, such as Frimpong, who had been impacted by the pandemic.

It said the qualification rules for Beijing had been set since 2019 and it was not possible to change them at the last moment.

“The IOC fully supports diversity and inclusion in the Olympic Games, as well as clear and fair qualification systems that apply equally to all athletes wishing to qualify,” a statement said.

But the IOC acknowledged that diversity “is not necessarily reflected at each discipline level in every sport” and it encouraged members of the IBSF’s athletes commission to address the issue for the future.

Frimpong, a former sprinter who also has Dutch nationality, says he has already gone down that route, but has so far not been able to get the IBSF to change course.

He is not the only competitor to try to challenge the system. Athletes from the Republic of Ireland and Israel have recently failed in their attempts to claim places at the Games in bobsleigh and skeleton.

Both countries appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s ad hoc division in Beijing, but their appeals were denied on Tuesday, with no explanation given for the judgments.

Frimpong is planning to watch the Beijing Olympics on television rather than polishing his technique and conditioning.

He is quick to point out that the IBSF has always been supportive of him on a personal level, but he wants to expand the sport beyond its current confines, and he believes that much needs to change in order for that to happen.

Frimpong has already been in contact with athletes from nations that aren’t traditionally represented in winter sports, such as Nigeria, India, and his home country of Ghana.

He says the difficulties those competitors face are only increased if top competitors like him cannot secure a place at the Games.

“If any African child was inspired by me to get into winter sport, and then they see that even with my hardest work, I can’t make it to the Olympics, they will stop trying,” he said.

“We can and must do better in the name of solidarity and the Olympic spirit.”

Six Africans competing at Beijing 2022

  • Shannon Abeda (Eritrea) – Alpine skiing
  • Carlos Maeder (Ghana) – Alpine skiing
  • Mathieu Neumuller (Madagascar) – Alpine skiing
  • Mialitiana Clerc (Madagascar) – Alpine skiing
  • Samuel Ikpefan (Nigeria) – Cross country skiing
  • Yassine Aouich (Morocco) – Alpine skiing

By: BBC Africa

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  1. Ibrahim, I’m proud of you. I pray you reach where ever you want to 🙏🏽🤲🏽📿 I hope to see you…

Don't allow your current situation today to define your tomorrow, there is always a way to change for better.