The Irish Times Sport Ireland Sportswoman Award - June
It was back in July 2017 that Gina Akpe-Moses first came to the attention of most of us, although those in the world of athletics were long since aware of her talent and potential. It was then, at the age of just 18, that she won gold in the 100 metres at the European Under-20 Championships, Ireland’s first ever European women’s sprint title at under-20 to senior level.
Naturally, then, she was our sportswoman of the month, our salute to her finishing with: “She’ll only be 21 come the Tokyo Olympics, but she’s set her sights on making it there.”
The best laid plans, and all that.
So, while she and the rest of us wait for some level of normality to return to our sporting world, we’re continuing to use these awards to salute sportswomen who have been making an impact outside the fields for which we know them best.
And Akpe-Moses has been doing just that, becoming a powerful voice on the issue of racism, along with other Irish sportswomen like athlete Nadia Power and footballer Rianna Jarrett, speaking out over the last few weeks in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s scary to think about bringing a child into this world as a black female,” she said to our own Gavin Cummiskey. “I saw a little girl marching in the protest and I was like: ‘You are so small, you should be going to the park, you should be living a childhood, not having to protest to get the police to stop killing your people.’”
“I wish I could travel back in time and eradicate the idea of racism,” she said. “Everyone’s life would be so different, everything would be a lot better. But I can’t do that. I have to live through the pain and try my best to make a difference, because I don’t want to raise my children in a world where I have to tell them to be careful just walking down the street or to be afraid of the police – who are meant to protect us.”
Now living in London, where she is studying psychology at the University of East London, Akpe-Moses has been representing Ireland since she was 15, having moved here with her family from Nigeria as a child, and intends continuing to do so on the world stage for many years to come.
Still, though, she says she is regularly asked if she plans on switching allegiances, to either Nigeria or Britain, the question implying, she senses, that her allegiance to Ireland is fleeting, the tricolour a flag of convenience, that, because of the colour of her skin, she’s not really Irish.
“I am a part of Ireland,” she said in response to that notion, one that also greeted her success and that of other athletes like Rhasidat Adeleke and Patience Jumbo-Gula in recent years, social media, of course, being a particular cesspit on the matter.
“I feel like it would be selfish not to speak out about what’s happening because I am a black person who has a bit of a platform,” she said, dismissing any worries that she could suffer, not least in terms of attracting sponsors, for speaking out.
“I am not concerned. If you’re going to try to reprimand me for speaking out about such a big issue then I don’t want to be part of your establishment or a part of your company. I should not be told to hold back for the fear of losing sponsorship. People are scared, but you shouldn’t be scared.”
The 21-year-old still has her sights set on the Tokyo Olympics, which, hopefully, will take place next summer, but while continuing her training with that goal in mind, she has put her time, and platform, to good use by helping shine a light on the issue of racism and sharing her own experience of the scourge.
Photo Credit: Morgan Treacy, Inpho