Boxing-France-born boxer chases Olympic dream with Ivory Coast

Sedia Sanogo, 33, captain of the Ivory Coast women's boxing team who dreams to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics Games, attends a practice session in Guerville, France, August 25, 2023. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) - Welterweight Sedia Sanogo grew up just a 20-minute drive from the arena hosting the Paris 2024 boxing tournament, but she has chosen to chase her Olympic dream under the flag of Ivory Coast, the country of her parents.

"When I watched the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, there were many people from many countries, including my (former) teammates from the French team, but Ivory Coast was not represented," Sanogo, 33, told Reuters. "I asked myself: Where are they?"

Sanogo's parents, who migrated to France before she was born, had signed her up for boxing classes when she was 13 so that she could learn to defend herself in a tough neighbourhood.

Having won several French titles as a teenager before taking an over 10-year break from boxing, Sanogo, a trained social worker from Paris' densely populated multi-ethnic Seine-Saint-Denis suburb, decided in 2020 to revive her career.

But she chose to run under the flag of Ivory Coast, becoming the African country's first female boxer with Olympic aspirations.

"In Ivory Coast, many have a traditional way of thinking. We say boxing is a men's sport, it's not for women," Sanogo said.

"I'm lucky to have dual citizenship - there must be many women who have to hide, who can't practice the sport, because of the closed-mindedness," she said, adding that she wanted help boost women's access to boxing there.


Today, Sanogo is the captain of Ivory Coast's first female Olympic boxing team, training ahead of this month's Olympic qualifier tournament for Africa in Dakar, where only 11 women - and just two in her weight class - can win the ticket for Paris.

"There's this aspect of wanting to show the way as we lead the pack - we want to motivate others to follow our example, and to be an example, we have to work hard, we have to fight, we have to win," she said.

Arthur Boua, the head of Ivory Coast's boxing federation, said he was proud that thanks to Sanogo, the country now had a women's team.

But receiving no financial support from the country of her ancestors, Sanogo says she has to cover all boxing-related costs herself and train after hours while still working in her job, assisting children of families living on social welfare.

(Reporting by Clotaire Achi, additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibali, writing by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Conor Humphries)

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