29 January 2013

Namibia: The Power and Riches of Sport


THE virtues of (physical) exercise are so self-evident that it needs neither embellishment from the powerful nor sermons from the high priests of our mushrooming churches to highlight them. The only surprise is that physical education has been placed on the back-burner for the last 23 years in our schools. Worse still, the authorities have treated classroom education and sport as contradictory.

This is, of course, a tragedy and helps to account for the poor showing of Namibian youth in all major sport codes compared to our neighbours and Africa generally. We submit that most sport codes are relatively affordable if consideration is given to what parents are prepared to fork out in toys and entertainment for their children.

As parents and guardians, we may have to weigh up the price of 'goodies' against investing in a pair of running shoes or soccer boots. Should our children spend more time on the sport fields instead of being glued in front of the television, we may be raising healthier, more balanced youth who will be tomorrow's prodigies of track and field and soccer stars along with Cabo Verde in future campaigns of the African Cup of Nations. But then the experience of the successful countries suggests that we must work with all the children, talented or otherwise, in their youth.

Government's failure to have no policy to date is nothing but mind-boggling that Namibia produces an occasional wunderkind in the fashion of Frank Fredericks, Agnes Samaria, Harry Simon, Johanna Benson, Tuli Shityuwete, etc. These are rare birds. What we need is grit, passion for sport and a plan of action backed up by money, real money, to turn ordinary children into bright stars.

It's simple. We need investment in sport which delivers for our children in order for them to consider sport as an alternative and a rewarding pursuit in life. For now, government spending on sport is woefully inadequate. In order to give sport the prestige it deserves, we must insist on a transparent budget for sport codes in their diversity. We must ensure too, that the bulk of these funds go for development. For, similar to business, if we don't invest in sport for the future we are sure to fail.

In societies which put a premium on the value of sport, trusts and businesses make valuable contributions to the promotion of physical education. It is in this light that we should see the N$20 million sponsorship by Bidvest Namibia last week towards the Namibia Football Association (NFA). The country needs more and more of this type of investment across all the codes, and particularly for development.

Since last week, football lovers across the continent are engrossed in the magic of the African Cup of Nations (Afcon), which has grown to become a biennial event showcasing the best of African football. The Nations Cup represents the largest and most prestigious sporting event on the continent. It exhibits the dexterity and sheer skill of the continent's big boys in football. Namibia is not participating in the finals taking place in South Africa because we are unable to kick ball.

But the revelation of the present edition of the games in South Africa is the small collection of islands - Cabo Verde, who are taking part for the first time. Not only did they hold the host to a goalless draw in the opening stanza but put in a gutsy performance on Sunday to go through to the next round. They are already halfway, being part of the final eight. Their performance confirms the track record of the likes of Australia in international sporting events that it is not the size of the population which is decisive but skill which can only come from years and years of practice and yes, investment. Cabo Verde has a population of 500,000. They validate the point that only a concerted development programme, sufficiently funded, will guarantee success on the pitch.

Sport, football in particular, has given an opportunity to escape from poverty to scores of Africans who pursue hugely profitable careers kicking ball, mainly in Europe. In another four years the games will grow to become a grand African dame of 60 years.

Sadly as it may be, the endurance and success of Afcon has, in no small measure, to do with the fact that its administration is only answerable to FIFA's writ and not to our politicians. This is sobering.

But then we can use Afcon's organisational template as a lightning rod for decision making elsewhere. As Africa plays in South Africa our leaders were gathering early this week in Ethiopia to, inter alia, caucus on the manner in which we should remember 50 years of our continental organisation. Whilst we pray for a different and reinvigorated African Union for the next 50 years, for now we shall follow the artistry of our sportsmen in South Africa. Go Cabo Verde, go!!

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