— Published 19 January 2023

Gangwon 2024, with or without snow

The initiative is unprecedented. It says a lot about the attention South Korea is paying – and the resources it is devoting – to continuing the legacy of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games.

Opened in May 2019 at the request of the country’s authorities and Gangwon Province, the PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation last year invited nearly 100 young African athletes to discover and learn about winter sports. The ambition is to offer them a chance to participate in the Gangwon 2024 Youth Winter Games (19 January to 1 February).

President of the Tunisian Ice Hockey Association, Ihab Ayed accompanied his country’s delegation throughout the adventure. One year before the opening of the 2024 Winter YOG in Gangwon, he told FrancsJeux about an experience that could change forever the Olympic future of many African countries, where the Winter Games have always been perceived as a distant and inaccessible event.

FrancsJeux: What was the starting point for this initiative to identify young African talent for the 2024 Winter Youth Games in Gangwon?

Ihab Ayed: The idea came from South Korea. It is part of the legacy of the PyeongChang Winter Games in 2018. The PyeongChang Foundation entered into a partnership agreement with the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA). ANOCA then issued a call to all National Olympic Committees on the continent to identify young people with an interest in winter sports or a minimum of practice. The Tunisian NOC contacted me, in my capacity as president of the National Ice Hockey Association, the only entity in the country dedicated to winter sports. I alerted my acquaintances, I used social networks. I ended up identifying eight young Tunisians, born between 2006 and 2009, to meet South Korea’s request.

What was the follow-up to the operation?

It was very concrete and perfectly organised. We were invited by the Foundation to a two-week summer course in PyeongChang, from 28 May to 13 June 2022. It brought together more than 80 young Africans from many countries, including Algeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Lesotho, Sierra Leone and South Africa. It was a very intensive course, where the South Koreans subjected all the young people to physical tests at the beginning and end of the stay to assess their progress. They offered us a programme of discovery of winter sports in a summer version – bobsleigh, downhill skiing, luge, cross-country skiing with rollers… The sessions were sometimes very specific, led by the national coaches of the South Korean federations concerned. The evenings were devoted to more cultural activities, discovery of South Korea, education sessions on doping and competition management.

How was the programme funded?

South Korea covered all the costs. For the African NOCs, everything was completely free, including travel and transfers. We were accommodated in the Athletes’ Village of the PyeongChang 2018 Games.

Was the experience continued in more winter conditions, on snow and ice?

In September, the Koreans sent ANOCA a list of some 40 young people selected to continue the adventure. For Tunisia, we went from eight trainees to four: a girl and a boy in bobsleigh, a girl in skeleton and a boy in alpine skiing. This reduced selection was invited to a second ten-day grouping in PyeongChang at the end of December. Also invited were countries not present at the first gathering, such as Comoros, Uganda, Cape Verde and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland). This time, the programme was more specific, with each of the youngsters having to concentrate on their own sport, with the South Korean Olympic team’s coaches still in charge.

Will all the young Africans selected participate in next year’s Winter YOG in Gangwon?

Not necessarily. Like the young athletes in the rest of the world, they will have to earn their selection. It will be through participation in international competitions, to earn points and get the quotas. South Korea does not decide on participation in the 2024 YOG, that is up to the international federations. But its initiative gives opportunities to countries without snow and to athletes who were previously far removed from winter sports. But this is also the raison d’être of the Youth Games.

Is it realistic for Tunisia to participate in the 2024 YOG in Gangwon?

Of course it is. But, as the country has no national federation for winter sports, the road to Gangwon 2024 requires the affiliation of the Tunisian Olympic Committee to the international bodies, the FIS for alpine skiing, the IBSF for bobsleigh and skeleton. The process must be initiated and validated as soon as possible.

What role did ANOCA play in the South Korean initiative?

A driving role. ANOCA President Mustapha Berraf negotiated the project and its conditions with the PyeongChang Foundation and then signed the cooperation agreement. The body then encouraged the NOCs to respond to the invitation. A representative of the association, South Africa’s Ezera Tshabangu, was present throughout the course. ANOCA ensured a real follow-up and promotion of the project, with the desire to see a maximum of young Africans at the 2024 YOG.