Anthon Bosch: changing allegiances to honour his grandfather's wish

Swedish-born Anthon Bosch changed allegiances to honour his activist grandfather’s wishes and hopefully put South Africa on the snowboard map. The snowboarder spoke to Olympics.com about how Nelson Mandela's grandson made the switch possible.

By Ockert de Villiers

Enamoured with his grandfather's sense of duty towards his birth country and personal sacrifices, Anthon Bosch vowed to one day adopt and represent South Africa at the Olympic Winter Games.

The Swedish-born snowboarder could have taken the easy road, the one paved with well-funded grants and ample training resources provided by his home country. But instead, he decided to honour a promise he made to his grandfather.

Some help from Mandla Mandela

Bosch was a rising star of Swedish snowboarding with a raft of victories for the blue and yellow at youth and junior levels. He finished in the top three in the big air and slopestyle at the Swedish national championships before he changed allegiance.

Five years ago, Bosch made the first crucial steps towards realising this dream when he received his 'letter of release' from the Swedish federation, which would allow him to represent South Africa. He had South African political royalty arguing his case with Mandla Mandela, the grandson of icon Nelson Mandela, assisting Bosch in receiving dual citizenship.

"I spent a lot of time with him (his grandfather) as a youngster – he was more like a friend to me than anything else. When I was young, I didn't really understand (his endeavours), but he somehow inspired me with his actions and the stories he told me," Bosch recalled.

"In 2012, when I started at the Norwegian Snowboard School, I decided that I would really like to one day represent South Africa. We finally got a letter of release from Sweden (in 2016), and Mandla Mandela, called my father out of the blue one day, and he told us that he's heard about my story and he knows of family Bosch. It took him one day and made everything happen just like that."

Anthon Bosch

Forced into exile

What seemed like a day to Bosch was the culmination of decades of sacrifices for a family torn apart by a cruel system.

Just months before South Africa made its debut at the Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley 1960, the snowboarder's grandfather, Edward 'Eddie' Bosch, boarded a ship bound for Great Britain to escape the Apartheid regime.

Forced into political exile due to his brother Jonie's activism, it was the last time Eddie would set foot on South African soil for 34 years.

Bosch's grandfather fled his homeland because of his brother's (Jonie Bosch) participation in the struggle against the Apartheid regime and its policies of racial segregation.

Eddie, one of 11 siblings, left South Africa for England at the age of 17 and eventually ended up in Sweden, where he built a new life with no contact with his family for more than three decades. On his return in 1993, Eddie found his large family had been reduced to two living siblings in his country of birth.

What are you prepared to do?

Through all the years, Eddie would not accept a Swedish passport, insisting on his South African heritage. Bosch's grandfather would also sport an afro hairstyle to celebrate his cultural history. Eddie's intrinsic connection with South Africa, and the continent, spoke to Bosch and elicited a sense of self-reflection within the athlete.

"There was a conversation between Anthon and his grandfather, and he (Anthon) was questioning his South African identity," Bosch's father Brian remembered his son's inflection point.

"My father said: 'you know, what defines you as a South African is not the passport you have, because I was without a South African passport for 34 years, but it never stopped me being South African. What defines us is what we are prepared to do for South Africa or your nation'."

Bosch had since dedicated his life to his dream of representing South Africa at the Olympics, which started with the PyeongChang Games. A persistent shoulder injury and surgery ultimately dashed his hopes of realising this goal in 2018.

A sliver of hope

At the 2017 snowboarding world championships in Sierra Nevada, Bosch finished 31st in the big air and 47th in the slopestyle. Last year he finished 40th in the slopestyle and 55th in the big air at the global showpiece in Aspen.

Bosch has made strides in putting his adopted country on the snowboard map as the only South African on the international and World Cup circuit. But to add insult to injury, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, which has further complicated efforts to make it to the Games in Beijing.

As the qualification window set for 16 January fast approaches, Bosch still holds on to a sliver of hope that he will make it to the pinnacle of his sport.

"It would mean the world to me, and it's is something I wanted and had as a goal my whole life, basically," Bosch said.

"It would really feel like full circle, and I hopefully would feel more at peace within myself and, yeah, it would mean a lot to me, for sure."

Inspiring a warm-weather nation

Bosch, who spends most of his year chasing snow, also finds time to spend time with his family in Cape Town, South Africa. The 25-year-old hoped not only to forge his own path to the Olympics but serve as an inspiration to other South Africans.

He believed there was untapped potential in his adopted country, spending some time at the Afriski Resort situated in the Maluti Mountains in the Kingdom of Lesotho, one of South Africa's landlocked neighbouring countries.

"The last time I saw this one kid from Afriski, he was nine years old, I believe, maybe 11 now, and is just as good on skis as he's on his snowboard," he recalled.

"It's cool because the slope there is even bigger than the slope I started to snowboard at. I believe the best snowboarders become the best because they come from bad conditions and bad training opportunities. I believe there's more passion and more you get used to through really bad riding and bad hills, so when there are good hills here, it becomes way easier."

The snowboarder plans on releasing a documentary later in 2022 about his grandfather’s forced political exile to Sweden and Bosch's bid to represent South Africa at the Winter Olympic Games.

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