Regional Sports Tournaments: The glue that binds Southern Africa
Competition is an important aspect of sport development. Any top-level athlete wants to compete. You can engage in training and preparatory programmes but the ultimate test is in high-level competition.
Sport development throughout Africa is seriously hampered because of a chronic shortage of rigorous competitions. The cost of travel within the African continent is also a contributory factor to the dearth of meaningful competition opportunities.
This is a major shortcoming, especially when compared to Europe where there are many travel options ‑ air, road, rail or sea ‑ even though we might consider and concede the fact that Africa is a vast continent. In some instances, it is easier and sometimes, even cheaper and faster, to travel to Europe or to Dubai in order to come back to some parts of North Africa or West Africa.
Connecting flights within Africa are extremely expensive causing cash-strapped sports organisations not to send athletes and teams to African competitions at junior and senior levels.
In most sport codes, African continental championships are characterised by poor attendances whereby only half of the members or even less,turn up for such events.
This sad situation also applies to Southern African tournaments where organisers celebrate when they are able to have just have five out of 19 countries turning up for major regional events. The good thing about Southern Africa is that in some instances, athletes can travel by road, which is cheaper but this is not always the case. For example, countries such as Angola and Malawi have to fly most of the time, as they are located on the peripheral areas of Southern Africa, making it extremely costly for them to attend a good number of regional sports tournaments.
This scenario calls for innovation whereby regional sports confederations, for example, can liaise with international federations, donors and other development partners to construct facilities in these peripheral countries to enable them to also host certain events and not be travelling all the time.
This proposal is important considering that national governments do not always have the resources to facilitate construction of sports facilities, in light of other urgent priorities in their countries.
However, this does not mean that sport development has to stagnate in most Southern African countries.
Countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe to a lesser extent do have some fantastic sports facilities but this does not mean that competitions should always rotate among a select few countries.
Southern African sports confederations are sitting on top of diamond or gold mines. Southern Africa is teeming with abundant talent in most sport codes but the Achilles’ heel of the system is the minimal exposure to regular, well organised and rigorous competition. This is not an issue that can be addressed by the regional sports confederations by themselves but they also need the support of the governments and corporate sponsors within the region. The issue of shortage of funds is a now a worn-out excuse. Rather, the critical factor is the lack of determination among the sports leadership to plan and do the right things. Where there is a will, there is a way!
Southern Africa is not exactly poverty-stricken. There are many multi-national companies operating in the various countries and deriving very good profits from the region.
These include banks, construction companies, mining houses, car dealerships, beverage manufacturers and distributors.
Without seeming to put pressure on these business houses, they do have a responsibility to support the region, which helps them generate the super profits they enjoy.
It would be a good idea for maybe the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) Zone VI, the Confederation of Southern African National Olympic Committees (COSANOC) and the regional sports confederations to convene a sports expo or sport sponsorship summit. The purpose of this event would be to invite the regional economic powerhouses to contribute to the development of Southern African sport through sponsoring regular regional competitions.
The event would be like a match-making exercise whereby partnerships would be forged resulting in contractual agreements for example, for three to five years duration. Such arrangements would bring not only mileage and return on investment to sponsors but they would also bring stability and predictability to Southern African competitions ensuring that regional confederations can, on a regular basis, successfully gather together the best of sporting talent for preparations for continental and world competitions.
Companies should not just crawl out of the woodwork when a Frank Fredericks, Lucas Radebe, Amantle Montsho, Maria Mutola, Chad le Clos or Nijel Amos, has emerged and they now want to associate with the glory of the achievement when they are not making meaningful contributions to the emergence of such talent. The power of television cannot also be underestimated. SuperSport, as the major regional commercial broadcaster can also play a very important role in building Southern African sport as a brand. In the long term, it will actually be good business for SuperSport to work closely with regional sports authorities.
Southern African youth need competitions, lots of them. This is the only way they can effectively compete with their counterparts from other parts of Africa and the world at large. As the wise people, have said, “Rome was not built in one day”. They also say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first few steps”. It is important for Southern African regional sports associations to start on this journey to transform and revolutionise sports competitions for their member states. In this connection, the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) needs to be congratulated for reinstating the COSAFA Castle Cup on the annual sporting calendar and organising a fantastic tournament. The recent COSAFA Castle Cup held in Lusaka, Zambia, was a joy to watch. COSAFA has promised and delivered a good product. The standard of football was excellent despite most teams fielding virtually unknown players. It augurs well for the development of the game in Southern Africa if smaller nations such as Lesotho can cause major upsets. Now it is up to the sponsors to support them to deliver more tournaments for both men and women as well as the juniors. Let the good times continue to roll!