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Sierra Leone sprint star dreaming of a UEL sports scholarship

students in class

Jimmy Thoronka, the Sierra Leonean sprinter who was found sleeping rough after absconding from the 2014 Commonwealth Games, has been offered the chance of a sports scholarship at the University of East London (UEL) – providing he can obtain the necessary permission to stay in the UK.

The 21-year-old is currently in the process of applying to the Home Office for leave to remain in the country but told the Guardian newspaper of his delight at the prospect of studying at UEL.

“I am so happy to have received this offer,” said Thoronka. “They [UEL] invited me to visit and have a look at all the athletics and academic facilities. It was fantastic. If I am able to study and train there, it will be my dream.

Thoronka has been inundated with offers of support since he was discovered sleeping rough in a south London park six months ago.

He went missing after the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow because of his fears of returning to his Ebola-ravaged homeland in west Africa.

He was informed during the Games that his uncle had died of the disease and discovered later that it had also claimed the lives of eight members of his family, including his adoptive mother and three of his siblings.

Thoronka is Sierra Leone’s top sprinter, with a 100 metres personal best of 10.58 seconds. But after fleeing the Commonwealth Games he was forced to sleep rough, washing in public toilets and begging for money to eat.

Following media publicity about his plight, he received numerous offers of help, including cash donations and free accommodation – and now the chance to pursue his dream of entering higher education as a UEL sports scholar.

If he can resolve his immigration status, Thoronka hopes to study on UEL’s new Applied Community Sport foundation degree course, which is delivered in association with West Ham United Football Club.

Dusty Amroliwala, UEL Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “Jimmy’s story is both poignant and unique.  UEL is a place of abundant opportunity, where a strong sense of social justice runs deeply through the entire fabric of our institution.

“We recognise the potential Jimmy has as a scholar and we are keen to support him in his ambition to enter higher education.  As a University that already attracts world-class, high-performing athletes, we are equally keen to help him to achieve his sporting dreams.

"We know that Jimmy is very keen to join us to study Applied Community Sports and he is working incredibly hard on his studies to meet our entry requirements, as well as his training.

“But everything still remains conditional on the Home Office granting him leave to remain in the UK. Without this, we are unable to enrol him as a student."

David Cosford, UEL Director of Sport, said: “Jimmy has great potential as an athlete and we would welcome him as one of our elite sports scholars. We have fantastic sports facilities at UEL and he’d be following in the footsteps of world-class sprinters such as Adam Gemili and Bianca Williams.”