Sport is not the most important thing in the world. In the grand scheme of things, it is fairly inconsequential who wins a football match or becomes Olympic champion.

But just occasionally, a sporting story has wider ramifications than merely the sport itself. Akwasi Frimpong’s is one such story.

He was born in Ghana and was raised in his formative years by his grandma, Minka. She brought up 10 children, including Frimpong, in a room measuring only four metres squared.

They were so poor that they only had a full egg or entire bottle of Coca Cola on Christmas day. While growing up in Ghana, sport never entered Frimpong’s head as he and his family were just too poor to consider doing any organised sport.

At the age of eight, Frimpong travelled to the Netherlands to join up with his parents who had moved to Europe in an attempt to seek a better life for their family.

It was here that he discovered sport and was recruited to track and field by Sammy Monsels, a former athlete and Olympian from Surinam. Monsels had a profound effect on the boy and he developed a dream of becoming an Olympian himself. 

As a teenager, Frimpong became Dutch junior champion in the 200m and his goal of competing in the Olympic Games suddenly seemed far more real than it once had.

However, there was one major obstacle for Frimpong: he was an illegal immigrant. 

“A lot of people have absolutely no understanding of what it feels like to be an illegal immigrant,” he told me.

“It was tough. As a kid, it was hard not being able to go on school trips because if they were leaving the country, I was afraid I would be arrested. I’d always lied and said that my mum had lost my passport. I got good at lying about it. I told lies because the other kids were laughing at me – I was a kid from Africa, they’d call me ugly, they’d say that I must be illegal because I had no passport. I was treated like a criminal. So I would act tough and pretend it didn’t bother me but I cried every day.”

Frimpong was a hugely promising athlete yet could not travel abroad for competitions, no doctor would treat him nor any school admit him.

However, he continued to pursue his dream of becoming an Olympian because, he says, sport was his only coping mechanism.

Eventually, Frimpong’s illegal immigration status came to light and the Johan Cruyff Institute took a chance on him despite his illegal status. He became international student of the year before being selected for the Dutch relay team for the 2012 Olympic Games. 

Injury dashed his chances though. He was then recruited to the Dutch bobsleigh team for the 2014 Winter Olympics but the Olympic Games continued to elude him and he missed out on selection by a mere whisker.

By now, Frimpong was studying in America and tried his hand at skeleton. He loved it, and was good at it. He is currently on the cusp of qualifying to represent Ghana at the 2018 Winter Olympic in Pyeongchang and if he does, he will become the first black athlete to ever compete in an Olympic skeleton competition.

It will be a huge personal achievement but more significantly, Frimpong believes that his story will not only inspire the people of his country, but highlights to the wider world that the common stereotype of illegal immigrants couldn’t be further from reality. 

“I am the biggest example to show that immigration is not a bad thing,” he said. “Immigrants are not criminals, immigrants are human beings. And immigrants have dreams and hopes but they don’t always have the privileges or opportunities that others have. 

So for me to have escaped that world will, hopefully, give others hope. There are stereotypes out there about immigrants but give these people a chance – they maybe just need a little help.”

Sport may not change the world in the same way that politics can. But these stories give a human touch to far wider, more significant issues. It remains to be seen if Frimpong will, ultimately, achieve his dream of becoming an Olympian. But his struggle, and his success to this point, proves that sport can be a vehicle for hope in a way that few other things can be.


Even by recent standards, the women’s singles at this year’s 
US Open has been remarkably unpredictable.

The openness of the draw has made Serena Williams’ absence even more obvious, but the American, who gave birth to a daughter a week ago, has maintained all along that she will return to competition.

It is just over three months until the first grand slam of 2018, the Australian Open, which seems too tight a time frame for even Williams; but it is almost nine months until the French Open kicks off, which 
is a far more realistic prospect for a comeback.

Williams has defied the odds more times than I can remember over the years so who would bet against her doing it again? And, even more intriguingly, it might be worth putting a sneaky tenner on another Williams grand slam champion around 2037 . . .