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Being a Judoka in a Football-Crazed Country: Koga’s Dream of Becoming a National Hero

Koga Paziaud (right)

In a country where football is the team game most people are obsessed with, it’d be a tough battle for anybody in any other sports to make his or her mark. But not even the national love for football can put off Koga Paziaud as he sets out to become a national hero through judo.

Born to a Gambian mother and French father, Koga started practicing judo at the age of six. He was inspired by his father Paziaud Luc, a retired judoka.

Every weekday at around 5pm, Koga heads to Kartong, the border-line between the Gambia and Senegal to join 30 other young judoka’s to learn skills and techniques at the Sukuta Python Judo Club.

“While football is the dominant sport in The Gambia, I find out that there’s a very good Judo set-up in Sukuta.” Koga explains. My dad introduced me to the club because I had a keen preference for martial arts. From the very first day I stepped into the dojo, I felt good about it. What judo taught me is discipline.”

Koga took his judo seriously since the age of 10, and has then been participating in the Senegalese junior judo championships. “I didn’t win in my first attempt, but I didn’t quit either. So, I worked hard and the next time I competed, I won gold in at the junior championships in Senegal.”

Koga Paziaud practicing judo moves

Judo is certainly not the most popular sport in The Gambia, but it is steadily gaining momentum in Sukuta according to Koga. “We have some nice role models who compete at the highest level for The Gambia which keeps me going and working hard. However, the first thing I learned about judo is how to prevail over such challenges. Judo has taught me how to overcome these and through the sport, I tackle any setback that comes along with competing at the highest level,” he says.

Meanwhile, the development of judo in The Gambia has been over the years hampered by administrative issues. It could be recalled that The Gambia has qualified just one judoka, Alex Faye Njie for the men’s lightweight category (73 kg) at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, signifying the nation’s Olympic debut in the sport.

Faye has now become the Gambia’s most recognized judoka with an international reputation built on success registered recently in Africa and Europe.

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