Boxer Cindy Ngamba eyes first medal for IOC refugee team. GETTY IMAGES

Cindy Ngamba was one of 36 athletes named in the IOC Refugee Olympic Team (ORT) for Paris 2024 on Thursday. Having qualified by right in Italy in March, the 26-year-old boxer will bid to win a first medal for the team which made its debut at Rio 2016.

Ngamba was born and raised in Cameroon but emigrated to the United Kingdom well over a decade ago. Having initially played football, she discovered boxing in her adopted home of Bolton and went on to become English national champion.

As a gay woman, it would be unsafe for Ngamba to return to her birthplace where homosexuality is illegal. Despite that, the British Home Office tried - unsuccessfully - to deport her back to Cameroon with Ngamba able to resume boxing and her studies at Bolton University.

Having amassed three English national titles, Ngamba was part of Team GB's plans for Paris 2024. GB Boxing were unable to help her obtain the British passport she needed to be eligible for the British team, but Ngamba did win a Refugee Athlete Scholarship which enabled her to try and qualify. She went to last year's European Games as part of the European Olympic Committees Refugee Team and won her opening 75kg bout before going out on a split decision to Ireland's eventual champion Aoife O'Rourke.

She was given another chance in the first World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Busto Arsizio, Italy. There she stopped Kazakhstan's Valentina Khalzova to claim one of four quota places at the Paris Games. That saw her become the first refugee boxer to qualify for the Olympics on merit since the ORT made its debut at Rio 2016.

Ngamba is the first boxer from the refugee team to qualify on her own merits. GETTY IMAGES
Ngamba is the first boxer from the refugee team to qualify on her own merits. GETTY IMAGES

For IOC President Thomas Bach, a medal for Ngamba would be particularly sweet given the ORT was founded during his tenure. "We had a little celebration at the Olympic House when we heard about her qualification," said Bach. "Cindy has a lot of fans here."

It has been a long journey for Ngamba who discussed her ordeal of almost being deported back to Cameroon. Then 20, she and her brother were arrested in Manchester and taken to a detention centre in London having given their address to let authorities know they were still in the country. "Imagine thinking you're just going to sign and go home to continue your day, and then you're handcuffed and put in the back of a van," Ngamba told the BBC.

Now, Ngamba is able to celebrate her selection for one of the world's greatest sporting events. She told AFP, "It means a lot to me to have qualified for the Olympics. And to be the first refugee boxer ever. I have always worked hard, even before the qualifiers, I have been very disciplined and consistent in my training. All the refugees selected are the same, I have no doubt. We are all one family and we will all go out there and support each other."

She is one of 36 ORT athletes from 11 countries competing in 12 sports.

The ORT had just 10 members at Rio 2016. Five years later, at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games, there were 29 in the team.

No refugee had qualified for the Games by right until this year when taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh - who became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal at Rio 2016 - came through the European qualifiers days before Ngamba secured her spot in Italy. However, Alizadeh has since obtained Bulgarian citizenship and will represent her new country in Paris.