Africa Starts to Assemble Its Stars for Olympic Glory
Each passing week seems to bring further announcements regarding who is heading to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and the past week has seen some African greats get the nod for participation.
Badminton may be a sport that is more commonly associated with the Asian nations but there is no debating the quality or passion that will be offered by the African players. No doubt they will be a great addition to the line-up this summer and even if a medal placing may be too much to ask for from their players, it would be unwise to rule out an upset or two along the way.
One of the major announcements came when it was said that Uganda would be represented by Edwin Ekiring. Ekiring will become the first ever Ugandan badminton player at the Olympics but the selection process has not been entirely straight-forward for the top seed in his country. He may be the second top seed in the entire African continent but Ekiring had not amassed enough points to be rewarded with an automatic qualification place.
It was only when the governing bodies offered a wild card place to the Ugandan star was he able to confirm his place in the squad. A late surge in form in recent months was enough to convince the ruling body that Ekiring deserved the invitation and the player is delighted that his hard work has been rewarded. It is also a great decision for Uganda and hopefully this will encourage a number of youngsters in the country to become more interested in the sport.
Ekiring will be joined in Beijing by Eli Mambwe from Zambia who has also been afforded a wild card entry to the event. Mambwe is the third seed in African badminton, tucked in neatly behind Ekiring, and again impressed the adjudicators with a late run of form and the decided to offer up another wildcard entry.
It has to be said that these decisions have shown great common sense and very much in line with the intended Olympic spirit. It would have been easy to allow another Asian entrant into the competition but that would not have done much for the development of sport in the area whereas the inclusion of these African entrants can have a massive impact on sport in the region.
Uganda will only be participating in four different disciplines at the Olympic Games so there will be a lot of focus placed on Ekiring. Having their top player responsible for a quarter of their nations events places a lot of responsibility on Ekiring but it is more about showing the sport off to the youngsters of the country and hopefully encouraging a few of them to get involved in playing badminton.
The inclusion of Mambwe is also likely to help raise the profile in Zambia as the country only has seven athletes going forward to the Games in Beijing. The main focus on the tournament may be about the medal winners but many nations will be delighted just to be taking part and showing what hard work and application can do for the youngster in their country. In many ways, the spirit and endeavour shown the African stars is far more in keeping with the Olympic spirit than anything the Gold medal winners may show.