ClubInternational Women's Day: Olympian Anyika Onuora holds inspirational talk at Anfield
British Olympian Anyika Onuora attended Anfield this week to talk about her experiences as a woman in sport and how she overcame racism and discrimination to reach the pinnacle of success.
Anyika, who was born and raised in Liverpool, spoke candidly with host and BBC broadcaster Ngunan Adamu about the many hurdles she had to overcome in her career – including a life-changing event when she contracted malaria while training for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
LFC staff, youngsters from the Academy and Chesterfield High School were also treated to an excerpt from Anyika’s book My Hidden Race.
Talking about the frequent discrimination she experienced, Onuora said: “I wish I had spoken up a lot more and I wish I had conversations with people to say, ‘This isn’t right, this is the level of discrimination or racism that I’ve encountered’ and hopefully gain understanding from it. Now I sing like a canary.
“The physical pain I can largely deal with – it was a key part of my job for nearly two decades but the pain in my heart is not. I never told anyone in British athletics about the numerous incidents of racism that I had experienced whilst representing my country or the sexual assaults that I endured during my competing years.
“I have spent many years wondering if I shouldn’t have spoken out and why I couldn’t speak out. The answer is that I never felt comfortable and there was no-one who looked like me in the organisation. I simply didn’t feel safe enough to speak out.”
Discussing her fighting spirit, Anyika shared her experience of contracting malaria after returning from a trip to Nigeria, a journey that she makes twice a year to visit family and friends and reconnect with her roots.
Onuora continued: “I didn’t know that I had malaria. I came back to the UK and then flew to the Dominican Republic but within three days I was just a mess. I felt cold, body shakes and other symptoms, and I couldn’t wait to come home.”
After team doctors confirmed she had malaria following tests, Anyika made her way to hospital for urgent treatment. She added: “They [the doctors] told me, ‘Your kidneys are shutting down.’ Thankfully, I made it to the hospital. I pulled up, left my car and collapsed in the road. I saw the internal-organs specialist and they admitted me, and I was in hospital recovering for nine days. It was super-scary.
“I was told by the consultant that my career was over – but that wasn’t me and that’s not within my mindset. I’d already been to two Olympic Games at that point and going into my third, so I knew I had to be in the best shape possible. And I made it and got an Olympic medal.”
Rishi Jain, senior equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) manager at LFC, said: “It was a pleasure to welcome Anyika and Ngunan to Anfield as part of our International Women’s Day celebrations. Anyika has such an incredible story and I know her experiences resonate with others, while also providing a source of inspiration and hope.
“She is an amazing woman – athlete, author, the list of her many talents goes on. It’s important that we hear from such positive role models as part of the club’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion within our Red Together campaign and activities.”
Find out more about LFC’s Red Together work here.