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The tiny African island nation of Cape Verde will add to its Olympics retinue with a sport that is flourishing Africa-wide

THERE is a growing passion for fencing across the continent, led by frontrunner Egypt, which draws from the sport's rich historical roots in the country. This surge in interest is inspiring a continent-wide wave of new enthusiasts, with countries like Cape Verde set to make their Olympic debut in Paris next month.

THE 2024 Paris Olympics will be historic for Cape Verde, the island nation that seems to be outperforming across the board, as the nation debuts in a new sport for the country’s Olympics team: fencing. The milestone highlights just how much the sport is growing, not only on the Atlantic Ocean island but across the African continent.

According to Olympics.com, Victor Alvares de Oliveira, who began representing Cape Verde in 2018 despite his Spanish and Portuguese heritage, will be the country’s flagbearer at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“I’m currently the only professional fencer from Cape Verde. We now have a few people that are doing fencing in Cape Verde. We also have connections with schools because that’s the goal to open opportunities for kids in the sport,” Alvares de Oliveira told Olympics.com.

“I’m happy to break new ground for future generations of Cape Verdean youngsters interested in fencing,” he added.

Fencing is a combat Olympic sport with three disciplines: foil, épée, and sabre. In this sport, two competitors, each wielding a sword-like weapon in one hand, aim to strike their opponent on a valid target area of the body. The rules and target areas vary depending on the weapon used.

It is a long-standing Olympic sport with a presence on the Olympic programme since the inaugural modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

Though often considered an elitist sport with a significant presence in Europe and Asia, fencing has historical ties to Africa. It traces its roots back to ancient Egypt, where it began as stickfighting.

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“Carvings at a temple called Medinet Habu near Luxor that was built by King Ramses III about a thousand years before the turn of the first millennium. In the carving we see two people engaged in a fencing bout,” the Academy of Fencing Masters, a fencing club in the US explains.

Since as early as 1912, Egyptians like the legendary Ahmed Mohamed Hassanein have developed fencing, carving a niche for North Africa on the international stage. Today, Egypt is one of the most prominent countries in Olympic fencing.

At the Africa Fencing Championships 2024, the premier continental fencing tournament, Egypt is dominating the medal count. As of June 9, the Egyptian team had clinched 16 out of the 24 medals awarded. The championships, taking place in Casablanca, Morocco, run from June 6 to 10.

Stars like Alaaeldin Abouelkassem, the 2020 Olympics silver medalist who also won silver in the men’s foil at the 2012 London Games, and rising talents like 23-year-old foil fencer Hamza Mohamed, are among the many highly ranked Egyptian fencers on the world stage.

Beyond Egypt, countries like South Africa have a long history with fencing, dating back to 1898 with the creation of the “De Vrije Wapenbroeders” fencing club. South Africa’s fencing presence gained significant attention at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Sello Maduma, arguably Africa’s first black Olympic fencer, competed.

The numerous training centres in South Africa are set to boost both the number of participants and the quality of fencers in the region. The Fencing Federation of South Africa lists at least 38 fencing clubs spread across the 8 provinces. Gauteng alone hosts up to 12 such clubs.

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The tide is also changing across many countries with the African Fencing Confederation having 31 national federation members undertaking different initiatives to develop the sport locally.

According to Mbagnick Ndiaye, president of the African Fencing Confederation (CAE), “Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and South Africa have experienced real development.”

“Other nations practice fencing, (and) their athletes participate in our championships, but success is yet to come. They have implemented development programs which are gradually yielding results. This is particularly the case for Nigeria, Angola, Kenya and Togo,” he explains in a November 2023 interview with the International Fencing Federation.

Despite being nascent in many countries, several rising athletes will compete at the Paris Olympics. Their impressive qualifier performances signal a promising future for fencing on the African continent.

Among these promising athletes is Alexandra Ndolo, a German-born fencer representing Kenya. At the Africa Fencing Championships in Casablanca, Ndolo showcased her rising talent by securing a decisive gold medal victory in the senior women’s epee division, defeating the host nation’s Camillia El Kord.

Ndolo’s victory in North Africa adds another milestone to her illustrious career. As the first Kenyan to compete at the Fencing World Cup in Tallinn, Estonia, in November 2022, she has already made history. Her upcoming Olympic debut in Paris will further cement her legacy, marking the first time a Kenyan woman has participated in fencing at the Olympics.

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Ivory Coast also has a star in the making in fencing in Maxine Esteban, a Paris-bound Filipina-Ivorian foilist who secured silver in the African Fencing Championships in Morocco. Esteban changed her nationality to represent the Ivory Coast in 2023.

From Ghana’s 16-year-old Yasmine Fosu to Nigeria’s Inkosi Brou, also 16 and specializing in sabre fencing, a cadre of emerging talents is poised to elevate the sport to new heights across Africa.