Ngamba built reputation as a three-time national amateur champ in England. | Jacques Feeney/Getty Images

Name: Cindy Ngamba
Country: IOC Refugee Team (Born in Cameroon. Resides in England)
Sport: Boxing, middleweight (75kg)
Previous Olympic experience: None
Social Media: Instagram / X

Who is Cindy Ngamba

Cindy Ngamba could be one of most interesting stories of the Paris Summer Olympics from both a human interest and sporting standpoint.

The 26-year-old middleweight boxer is originally from Cameroon. Her parents fled the country amidst the civil strife in the African nation in 2009. They resettled in Bolton, England.

A young girl in a strange land in a new school with a strange language to learn, sports was a refuge for Ngamba. She latched onto soccer early, but she felt the game was boring. She wanted a challenge, and that led her to the boxing ring at age 15.

“One day, when I was walking out the football training session, I saw many boys coming out of a room and all I heard is boom, boom,” she recalled to Olympics.com. “I walked inside, and I saw boys in the room punching each other on the head and I thought, ‘this is so cool.”

A rangy fighter who developed an offensive arsenal early, Ngamba became a hot prospect in amateur boxing in the UK. She’s been a national champion at three different weight classes, as she got the attention of GB Boxing.

She trained with Team GB from their base at English Institute for Sport in Sheffield for the last two years with hopes of her representing Great Britain in Paris.

But there was a hitch in that plan that has plagued her since she arrived in the UK at age 11. Ngamba has not been granted citizenship.

That hitch nearly derailed a promising future after her first national title in 2019. During a routine visit to a local immigration office to sign documents, she and her brother were arrested and threatened with deportation.

“They put handcuffs on me and I was just there screaming, “Where’s my brother?” They put me in the back of the van and drove me to London,” Ngamba stated in an interview with Eurosport earlier this year. “I didn’t know where I was going or even that it was a detention camp. When we arrived, it looked like a prison and it was full of women and their babies.”

A relative was able to provide a enough proof of her eligibility to stay in the UK for her to be released from the detention camp, however the threat was harrowing. ““I have friends and family. If I have to go back there I will be alone again,” she told the Bolton News after her release in 2019. “When I grew up I felt like I was from here. I didn’t think of myself as an immigrant.”

In years since, she has bolstered her reputation in the ring and outside of it. Two more national titles, and in 2023 earning a degree in criminal justice from Bolton University.

In between, she also came out to her family as lesbian. “I’m very open and I have no problem talking about it,” she said to Eurosport. “I was a bit scared about telling my family, but they weren’t shocked at all. My mum had more traditional views at first but she came around.”

That admission opened up a different door. Homosexuality is a crime in Cameroon and carries a 5-year prison sentence. In 2022, Ngamba was granted asylum in the UK on those grounds which means she could travel to international tournaments and compete.

Coaches and officials with Team GB scrambled to appeal to the UK Home Office to get her citizenship. Her hopes for citizenship are still churning through the system, meaning she would not be eligible to represent the UK in Paris, however a different door opened for her Olympic dream.

Cindy Ngamba at the Paris Summer Olympics

At the prodding of England Boxing lead head coach Amanda Coulson, Ngamba explored getting on the IOC Refugee Team. She competed under similar status the previous year at the European Games.

Training alongside GB Boxing Olympic hopefuls, Ngamba was given a slot as a Refugee Athlete for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Italy in March. It was the first time that a member of the IOC Refugee Team went through a qualification event to earn an Olympic berth.

She charged through her qualifying section starting with a unanimous decision over 2019 Pan Am Games gold medalist Naomi Graham of the United States. She followed up with technical knockout of Asian Games medalist Seong Su-yeon of South Korea.

Video courtesy of Olympics.com

The bout for the slot in the Olympic draw came down to Ngamba against Kazakhstan’s Valentina Khalzova who was world amateur champion in 2016, and bronze medalist at worlds in 2022 and 2023.

Ngamba entered the ring to claim her place and she did it by dominating Khalzova from the opening bell and ending up with the referee stopping the fight in the third round. Cindy Ngamba would be the first refugee boxer to reach the Olympic Games.

Some analysts feel her performance in Italy puts her on the list of medal contenders in the weight class. That list would include Team GB’s Chantelle Reid, who is Ngamba’s training and sparring partner and will be fighting for medals in Paris as well.

For Ngamba, she wants to use this platform to bolster someone else who’s beginnings were similar to hers.

“There’s many other refugees out there, there’s millions of us. I’m just one of millions. And there’s millions that are not being given the opportunity,” she said to Reuters. “I just hope my story and my journey is kind of inspirational, not only for other refugees but also for other people that have the opportunity so they can achieve amazing things.”

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