Olympics-Boxing-A refugee in the ring, Ngamba takes her fight to Paris


  • Boxing
  • Wednesday, 12 Jun 2024

Boxer Cindy Ngamba poses for a portrait at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, Britain, June 7, 2024. REUTERS/Lee Smith/ File Photo

SHEFFIELD, England (Reuters) - Cindy Ngamba had hoped to be boxing for Britain at the Olympics but instead the medal contender will step out in Paris as a refugee in the ring.

The 25-year-old, who arrived in Manchester from Cameroon at the age of 10 to join her father and step-siblings, is still waiting for citizenship and a passport from the country she knows as home.

She has been arrested and faced the threat of deportation to West Africa, and has had to provide proof of her sexuality to immigration officials after coming out as gay and before securing refugee status.

But if all goes to plan the woman who now has a degree in criminology from the University of Bolton, and talks of joining the police force, could become the first refugee athlete to win an Olympic medal.

The winner of English titles at three weights, Ngamba has been boxing since she was 15 and qualified for the Games on merit in the middleweight (75kg) category.

Her potential is not in doubt and Team GB had wanted her with them rather than as an opponent.

"Boxing changed my life," the Bolton-based boxer told Reuters at the 'Lion's Den' gym inside Sheffield's English Institute of Sport where she spars and works out with Britain's elite boxers and coaches.

"I worked hard for many years and I’m still working hard."

MILLIONS OF US

Ngamba, whose mother lives in Paris and will be there with other relatives to cheer her on, hopes her story can help others overcome obstacles and hardship.

"There’s many other refugees out there, there’s millions of us. I’m just one of millions. And there’s millions that are not being given the opportunity," she said.

"I just hope my story and my journey is kind of inspirational, not only for other refugees but also for other people that have the opportunity so they can achieve amazing things."

That story includes being arrested along with her brother, handcuffed and bundled into a van before being sent to separate detention centres in London.

They were released the following day but the situation remained precarious.

"I’ve lived through my life of having that moment where the Home Office and immigration people can come and collect me as I’m walking on the street, as I’m at the house, as I’m going to my school or college," she said.

"They (immigration officials) kept on coming back to me and saying no, no. And then I had to use my sexuality because in Cameroon it’s illegal to be gay. You can be sent to prison, you can be killed or be beaten."

There followed background checks, interviews with friends and family and messages scrolled through to make sure she was telling the truth.

"I just thought OK, this is something else. I’m not fake, I’m not lying. I’m just going to let them do what they’ve got to do and I just hope everything turns out for the best," she said.

GB Boxing have backed her case and England Boxing helped secure funding as a refugee athlete. The local member of parliament and friends from school, college and university wrote in support.

Bubbly out of the ring, and fully focused in it, she has paid her way with part-time work, in a warehouse and as a cleaner, and learned to speak like a local.

"I’ve kind of blended into the lifestyle. The country that is my home is England, not Cameroon," she said. "I’ve had many friends, many people who have wanted to support me and family, met new and amazing people. I feel like I am a British citizen."

A medal now would mean everything.

"It will be amazing, a greatness, a blessing. I’d be speechless. Even thinking about it right now I’m lost for words," she explained.

"Still right now I can’t believe I have qualified and I’m going to Paris. It’s not that I don’t believe in my graft and my work, I’m just human.

"I’m going to the Olympics and I’m going to make sure I get my medal and when I do get my medal I will still be speechless."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

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