Nigerian bobsledder: ‘This is about the future of female athletes’
While Simidele Adeagbo wavers in her fight to end gender discrimination in her sport, she draws inspiration from other women who have championed change.
The Nigerian monobob and skeleton athlete is seeking to overturn Winter Olympics qualifying regulations after missing out on a spot at this year’s Games in Beijing.
“This action is bigger than me, it’s bigger than bobsleigh. It’s really about the future of female athletes,” she told BBC Sport Africa.
Adeagbo wasn’t talking about the issue of transgender athletes in sport, a major talking point right now, but about something much simpler – namely, the disparity in places available for male and female athletes.
Because while there were 58 bobsleigh spots for men at this year’s Winter Olympics, women had almost a third less – just 40.
“There are so many examples where it only took one woman to stand up and fight; usa women’s national soccer team, Allyson Felix is pushing for change for mothers,” she added.
“I want to make sure that no other woman is in this place, knowing that she is talented and capable, but sits on the sidelines – just because there is a lack of equal opportunity. genders.”
Adeagbo filed a complaint with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), alleging that the system put in place by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) prevented him from competing in China.
Separately, Ghanaian skeleton racer Akwasi Frimpong has expressed grievances over the scrapping of the IBSF’s continental quota system, which ultimately cost him a qualifying spot for Beijing.
In 2018, Adeagbo became the first Nigerian to compete in the Winter Olympics, when she made history as the first black Olympian in the sport of skeleton.
However, she missed out on automatic qualification – by just one spot – for the inaugural monobob event at the Beijing Games this year after the qualifying criteria changed.
“If I had been a male competitor, I definitely would have been at the Beijing Games,” said the 40-year-old.
“That’s why it’s really important to look to the future to make sure talented and capable female athletes aren’t sidelined by this gender discrimination.”
The monobob was introduced to the Olympic program increase the number of women who can compete in bobsleigh events.
But take a closer look at the numbers, and they tell a very different story.
Men are allocated 28 places in the four-man and 30 places in the two-man, while women are allocated 20 places in the monobob and 20 in the two-man.
“When you dive deep into the numbers you can see that they just aren’t equal – so any female athlete trying to reach the games doesn’t have an equal chance of making it,” Adeagbo explained.
In January, Adeagbo – who is in the best shape of her career – became the first African to win an international bobsleigh race, when she claimed the World Series monobob title in Germany.
“I’m out of the ride of my life,” she said.
“I know my future is bright. I’m super excited to continue exploring my potential in the sport of bobsledding. But I want to do it in a system that’s equal.”
“I have never backed down from challenges”
Even if Adeagbo had made the start line in Beijing, she insists she would still take this action against the IOC and ISBF.
“As an elite athlete, you don’t want to watch the Olympics from your couch,” she said.
“It’s the worst thing that can happen, especially considering how much energy and investment you put in as an athlete physically, mentally and financially.”
This time on his sofa gave Adeagbo time to reflect.
“I believe I would take this step regardless, but actually not doing it really helped me see the gap that existed.
“I would have loved to be in Beijing, but it gave me a moment to pause and really reflect and understand the systems that were in place, and really gave me the fuel to take that disappointment and channel it for the change.”
There is no doubting Adeagbo’s determination and passion, both for his sport and for his fight to change it.
It took him a decade to realize his dream of competing in the Olympics, having first tried to qualify in 2008 as a triple jumper.
She switched from the athletics track to the ice track in 2017, qualification for Pyeongchang 2018 when she made history as the first African female skeleton competitor.
The determination that is so evident in her athletic career is what drives her in her legal fight.
“I’ve never backed down from challenges, and that’s just another challenge I face as an athlete,” she said. “Just like when I step onto the starting line, I have full confidence that I will succeed.
“I’m progressing towards my starting line in this Cas file, feeling confident and empowered, knowing that my chance of succeeding is as good as anyone’s.”