October 5, 2015 By Sahr Morris Jr.
Sierra Leone’s top 100m sprinter, Jimmy Thoronka, has reacted to the United Kingdom (UK) Home Office’s decision to deny him a right to stay in the UK.
The sprinter, who absconded from the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland, was discovered homeless on the streets of London.
Few weeks back, Thoronka applied to stay in the UK after being offered a sports scholarship by the University of East London (UEL), but the UK Guardian newspaper reported last Thursday that the Home Office did not only reject the athlete’s application but said his claim was “clearly unfounded”.
Reacting to the news, Thoronka – who fears his dreams of becoming a world-class athlete have been shattered – said he was devastated by the decision.
He told the Guardian: “What is going to happen to me if I am forced to return to Sierra Leone? There is no one to look after me and support me there and the training facilities are very bad. The president of the Sierra Leone Athletics Association there said that many of the athletes are just training by themselves, on the tracks at schools which are not very good. I don’t think I will make it if I have to go back.”
Thoronka’s fears of better training facilities were re-echoed by the SLAA president, Abdul Karim Sesay, who said: “There are no good opportunities for Jimmy to train in Sierra Leone especially now that the main training ground at the Siaka Stevens Stadium is presently occupied by flood victims, and the Ebola scourge has decimated other areas of training.”
Dusty Amroliwala, the UEL’s deputy vice-chancellor and chief operating officer, told the Guardian: “We are all obviously very disappointed that the opportunity for Jimmy to study in the UK and to continue to develop as a world-class athlete has, for now, been lost. At UEL, we set considerable store on the ability for people, of whatever background, to be granted the opportunity to achieve their full potential and to grasp the opportunity to succeed in their life ambitions through studying in higher education.
“Jimmy’s story – his struggle against huge adversity, his determination to succeed, his fortitude, all in the face of losing his family for a tragic second time in his young life – these things all marked him out as being a very special young man. He was exactly the kind of individual to whom UEL would wish to extend the hand of support and we are deeply saddened that we are no longer allowed to do so.”
Van Skoric, who set up a change.org petition for Jimmy which attracted more than 70,000 signatures, said he was shocked by the Home Office’s decision.
The Home Office, in their refusal letter, stated that the 20-year-old had already achieved credibility as a world class sportsman before entering the UK “with whatever means were available to you in your home country”.