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CNN MEETS THE AFRICAN ATHLETES COMPETING IN CONTACT SPORTS

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On this week’s episode of AfricanVoices, CNN International explores the growing interest in contact sports in Africa by meeting athletes from Nigeria, South Africa and Senegal.

Growing up in Aiochi, Nigeria, UFC Fighter Kamaru Usman remembers how the struggles he faced as a child helped prepare him for the hard work it takes to be a champion.

He tells CNN: “I remember the streets, I remember having to walk what seemed like miles to fetch water from the wells with my grandmother. I recall the hard work that my family went through just to continue to live the lifestyle that we were living, which wasn’t by any means a great lifestyle.”

For Usman, a spiritual belief has helped him maintain his conviction, he explains: “I believe in fate. I believe in karma. For me, it’s whatever God has in store for me. If God said that this was how you get that title shot, I don’t want to be the guy to say, “Oh, well, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared.” I wanted to make sure that I was prepared because I don’t know God’s plan. Maybe God wanted me to get it a certain other way, but I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure thatI’m a champion.”

African Voices meets Usman in Dallas, Texas as he trains to become a champion. He tells CNN about the work he does to remain competitive: “I had to diet, I had to go through the whole training camp. I had to put my body through that stress and just the rigorous training that you go through. I went through all of it and then I had to step on the scale and make the weight.”

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Usman not only trains to be successful but also helps encourage other athletes in Africa. He explains: “When it’s training time, we push each other and do anything to help each other and when it’s fight time we’re always there for each other. If I see you doing something that’s wrong or I see something that can help you change your game I’m going to always give those tips especially with another of my African brothers. We eat the same food, we come from the same walks of life, so it’s a different bond.”

On his future in the sport, Usman tells CNN about his aspirations: “In a couple years from now in this sport, I will be the champion.

“I would have defended the belt a few times. Secured or solidified my place in the hall of fame as one of the greatest to ever do this, and all the while inspiring not just Africans, but inspiring kids across the world that have a similar story to myself.”

Another athlete African Voices also meets is Women’s Flyweight and Bantamweight champion Amanda “Mad Dog” Lino from South Africa. She explains to CNN what encouraged her to be the champion she is today: “Something that really changed my life would have to be losing my f ather.

“You know that really brought focus and dedication into my life because going through a struggle and losing someone that you love would make you focus on what you need to on a day to day basis. I think that it’s most shaped me and made me realize that life wasn’t all about having fun and not focusing.”

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Lino explains how criticism she faced encouraged her to work harder: “Everyone kept telling me girls are never going to be successful in MMA, it’s a man’s sport or it’s a boy’s sport… So being the competitive person or the one to push boundaries, I was like well no, I’m going to make sure that female athletes get into MMA and make a difference.”

The final athlete African Voices meets is Olympic Taekwondo athlete Balla Dieye from Senegal. He tells CNN about the challenges he has faced in the sport: “Before, when you start Taekwondo in Senegal it was very difficult because it’s not our culture. When you show some people, I make Taekwondo, they say, “What’s Taekwondo?” [they] thinks its karate. Because [they] see movies from Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. But now,it’s different now. We know this is karate, this is Taekwondo.”

Dieya tells the programme about his experience at one of the biggest sporting competitions in the world: “When I goto Olympics, I [was] training for six hours a day. And four hours for me is physical preparation and two hours is only from sparring…. We do all exercise here.  If you have your body very strong then you’re going to fight easy.You need flexibility, you need speed, and you need those strong, power for scoring.”

On his future hopes Dieye tells CNN: “I need Olympic medals now, this is dream for my taekwondo. In Senegal everybody waiting this medal. All sport. Everybody waiting the next medal for taekwondo, the next medal in Senegal. Why I [am] pushing a lot this new generation, I give my motivation, I give my time, I give my energy to make focus for this medal… I think the dream is coming soon.”

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Manu Garba proud of Eaglets as team countenances Niger Republic

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Coach Manu Garba has asserted that he is proud of the Golden Eaglets after Thursday’s scoreless encounter with their Burkina Faso counterparts in the Group B opener of the WAFU B U17 Championship.

 Five-time champions Nigeria created several scoring chances particularly late in the game at the Accra University Stadium, but failed to utilise even one that could have earned them the three points and handed them early leadership of the pool.

 However, Garba said the boys played a cohesive game in their first-ever international outing and deserve credit for their display.

 “We are proud of our team’s performance. Although we didn’t secure the win that we hoped for, our players showed great teamwork and sportsmanship. We look forward to our next match and the opportunity to continue growing and improving.

 “The boys will get better with experience and exposure.”

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 Against the Burkinabes, the Eaglets showed flair and fluency, but a heavy downpour in the final 15 minutes of the game disrupted the general flow of play, with the pitch waterlogged and effective control and passing impossible.

 The Golden Eaglets go up against their counterparts from the Niger Republic on Sunday evening (6pm Ghana time; 7pm Nigeria) with renewed hope and vigour to pick up the three points that will enhance their chances of a place in the last four.

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Paris to face major disruption ahead of Games opening ceremony, says police chief

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Paris will face major disruption ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony along the Seine on July 26, as organisers ramp up security measures to safeguard the event, the city’s police chief said on Thursday.

Organisers hope the opening ceremony, in which 160 boats carrying athletes from around the world will travel a 6 kilometre route along the Seine river towards the Eiffel tower, will deliver a jaw-dropping spectacle. Some 300,000 spectators will watch from the banks of the Seine as a global audience tunes in on TV.

But the ceremony is also a major security headache, taking place against a backdrop of wars in Ukraine and Gaza. French President Emmanuel Macron has already floated the possibility of scrapping the river ceremony and reverting to at least two back-up plans if the security risks become untenable.

Paris residents with a view of the Seine can invite friends to watch the opening of the 2024 Summer Games from their balconies, but should prepare for heavy traffic and limited movement, Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said at a press conference.

Adjacent metro stations, most river crossings and all water traffic will be halted in the week before the open-air ceremony, Nunez said, adding that some bridges will remain open “in order not to cut Paris in two halves.”

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Everyone who wants to access the immediate surroundings of the Seine in the week before the Games will need to sign up on an online platform, Nunez said. Local residents hoping to access their homes, which are among the most prestigious addresses in France, will need to do the same.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, who also spoke at the event said the disruption would impact around 20,000 residents and business owners.

Asked about Macron’s comments earlier this month, Nunez said his teams were still working on the ‘Plan A’ of the river ceremony.

“As of today, we have no reason to be worried,” Nunez said.

-Reuters

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New dawn expected as Nigeria sports ministry partners with Yanga Games

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Towards creating a new dawn for Nigerian Sports,  the Federal Ministry  of Sports has signed a landmark  agreement with  top lottery  company Yanga Games to raise the revenue profile of the Ministry  and ensure a new deal for the welfare of athletes. 

Speaking during the unveiling  of the partnership between  the Ministry  and  Yanga  Games in Lagos on Friday,  Chairman/CEO of Yanga Games  Derrick  David Kentebe  said: “we are so super excited by this opportunity to work  with the Ministry  of Sports Development to change the narrative about Sports in the country. 

Continuing, he remarked: “We see opportunity for marketing our athletes  and sports generally . We shall avail ourselves  the best use  of this unique and  special partnership. We shall pursue this mandate with vigour, passion and unrivaled  commitment  to bring benefits to all the critical stakeholders.”

The agreement  according  to Kentebe  will provide  support for retired athletes, enhance grassroot  sports Development and advance the potentials of  special athletes.

He assured that ” Yanga Games has the capacity to  raise funds on behalf of the Ministry  of Sports for athletes  Development, endorsement and sponsorship deals for athletes”. 

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Minister of Sports Senator John Owan Enoh assured that the Ministry has total and absolute  confidence  in Yanga Games to deliver on the given mandate.

“Gone are the era when we depended solely  on government  to fund sports  development.  We are partnering with  Yanga Games to bring maximum  benefits  to the athletes and all critical stakeholders.

“We shall give institutional encouragement and support to the Management of  Yanga Games to succeed in this onerous task of rebuilding our sports sub sector.”

Speaking further, Kentebe  said ” We shall raise about 34 Billion in the next four years to assist athletes and improve sports in the country.

“We shall help to develop  grassroot  sports and  sustain youth involvement  through raffle draws, fund raiser and other avenues.

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