As the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics flagged-off on January 19, in Gangwon, Korea Republic, a team of young Nigerians is making history by becoming the first African curling team to qualify for the Winter Youth Games. Curling, a sport unfamiliar to most Nigerians, remains an unaccustomed concept due to Nigeria’s location in sub-Saharan Africa, where winter sports rarely find resonance. Throughout the years, nations such as Nigeria, along with other countries that experience tropical climates, have managed to break into the Winter Games. Initially reserved solely for countries with extremely cold conditions, this exclusive event has gradually opened its doors to a much broader range of participants.
The meteoric rise of Jamaica’s bobsleigh team in the 1988 Winter Olympics held in chilly Calgary, Canada, sparked a wave of enthusiasm for winter sports in warm climate countries and even Nigeria. Taking their cue from the inspiring trailblazers, Nigeria qualified for the winter sports for the first time at the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang in 2018, and qualified female athletes in bobsleigh and skeleton events. By being the first African country to participate in the Youth Olympics curling event, Nigeria introduced a new generation of talented individuals. Their remarkable achievement was earned at the World Junior-B Curling Championships in Lohja, Finland, where they secured Africa’s quota qualification spots in both the men’s and women’s competitions.
Ministry of Sports has shown a lack of recognition of the sport.
This event participating team includes Roy Olach Daniel who leads the team in the mixed event, serving as the skip. Oku Nkoyo Jasmine takes on the role of vice-skip, with Danmola Fatiu Ademola and Akinsanya Oluwatomisin Gbemisola comprising the rest of the team. Representing Nigeria in the Mixed Doubles event will be Wale-Ogun Oluwanimifise Enioluwafe and Charles Goodnews Idongesit. Alejo Fareedah Omobolanle and Babalola Daniel Damilare complete the team as alternate athletes. The technical crew included Scott Hill, Charles Nameith, Sheila Daniel, Tijani Cole and Lyne Laganiere.
Daniel Damola Oyedepo, the President of the Nigeria Curling Federation, noted the difficulties encountered by the Federation during their trip to South Korea. Commenting on the development of Curling in Nigeria since its establishment in 2017, he expressed disappointment regarding the lack of recognition shown by the sports ministry. He added that the federation had not received any kind of assistance or backing from the ministry. According to him, every initiative undertaken by the federation had been financed solely through the collective effort of the board, technical staff, and family members of the athletes, all investing their resources to foster the growth of the sport in Nigeria.
There is a plan to procure floor curling equipment.
In a rather disheartening statement, he bewailed the sports ministry’s single-minded focus on football, neglecting the other sporting activities that deserve attention. Shedding light on the federation’s ambitious plans for the upcoming year of 2024, Oyedepo revealed an intriguing vision to enhance sports development in Nigeria by introducing makeshift curling equipment. He said the federation will persist in their quest for upcoming curlers through their educational initiatives, saying that those who excel will be financially supported to further enhance their skills internationally.
Among the federation objectives set for the year includes aims to enhance the sport by procuring floor curling equipment worth a substantial amount. They also intend to engage a multitude of clinics nationwide to identify and support talented young curlers, who will receive training opportunities overseas and potentially become Nigeria’s representatives in future competitions. In 2023, there was widespread travel across the nation by the federation, aiming to acquaint numerous educational institutions with the emerging sport of curling. Additionally, plans were formulated to partake in a range of international competitions throughout the year, including both junior and senior divisions.
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Oyedepo also disclosed that the federation has intentions to construct an ice-training facility within Nigeria, with the aim of reducing the expenses associated with foreign training trips. Once this facility is finished, it will also extend its services to other African nations that show interest in curling. Other African participants joining the Curling group in the Youth Olympics are Issa Laborde, a skier born in France who decided to represent Kenya, his mother’s country. Ashley Ongonga, who is based in Italy and also represents Kenya, will make history as the first female cross-country skier from Africa to compete in the Winter Youth Olympics.