Sierra Leone is not well-known for its cyclists. Yet.
The small West African nation is – unfortunately, and unfairly – more associated with the violent civil war that gripped it at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as the more recent devastation caused by the Ebola outbreak.
The primary sport in Sierra Leone is football, with most people following at least one major European team avidly. Cycling, by comparison, barely gets a look in. So far it’s pretty similar to the UK in that regard.
Where the countries differ, is that the UK has one of the best-funded national bodies for cycling in the world, while Sierra Leone’s is essentially penniless.
In recent years this has greatly restricted the amount that the national team can participate in races abroad – and with no active national team, hopes of participation in major events like the African and Commonwealth Games are pretty much reduced to the stuff of fantasy.
Luckily, there are UCI races in West Africa, and this year the national team of Sierra Leone has been invited to participate in one; the Tour de Faso in Burkina Faso.
The race was until recently organised by ASO, the company behind the Tour, the Vuelta and Paris–Roubaix, and is the official season-opener for the UCI Africa Tour. It would be the biggest race that any of the current crop of riders in Sierra Leone has ever participated in.
Sierra Leone has been invited to send a squad of six riders and three support staff, whose costs while they are in Burkina Faso will be covered by the organisers. That just leaves the costs of equipment, travelling to Burkina Faso, and the riders’ stipends to cover.
Which is where the Sierra Leone team’s fundraiser comes in.
For Sierra Leonean cyclists the opportunity to compete in a UCI-level race is almost once-in-a-lifetime and offers the chance to develop themselves and their sport in a country with a huge untapped passion for cycling.
In order to create a sustainable development system for Sierra Leonean cyclists to become professional athletes, participation in races like ‘the Faso’ will become more and more instrumental.
The GoFundMe page was set up at the request of Winston Crowther, the acting president of the Sierra Leone cycling federation.
Crowther said: “To have our riders participating in races like the Tour du Faso is a fantastic learning experience for them. Some of Africa’s finest will be on the start line and by competing against them, our young riders will have the opportunity to learn a huge amount.”
To support the fundraiser, click here.