Athletics World Championships: the fever is here again!

The World Athletics Championships are back again! The event is billed for Moscow, Russia, from August 10 to 18, 2013.

This is a particularly interesting time for the sport. Athletics, otherwise known as “Track and Field” is an important sport code in the All-Africa, Commonwealth and Olympic games. As some marketing experts say, athletics is the “jewel in the crown of the Olympics”.

This is not to say that other sports codes are not important but athletics is special in terms of its universal popular appeal as well as television marketing.

For Southern Africa, athletics has also produced world champions, Commonwealth Games and Olympic medalists for the region since attainment of Independence for the majority of the countries. The road to international prominence and recognition has not been a smooth one. 

There have been ups and downs, detours as well as diversions.

The unfulfilled potential of hugely talented athletes in the region has largely been due to, among other factors, inadequate facilities, injuries, poor coaching and sports science support and expertise as well as shortage of funds for widespread exposure to ininternational competition. 

These are some drawbacks, which need to be planned in the future and strategically managed to avoid pitfalls of the past.

As for the forthcoming 2013 Athletics World Championships in Moscow, one can only reminisce with also lots of pride when Frank Fredericks of Namibia, Maria Mutola of Mozambique, Samuel Matete of Zambia were forces to reckon with in previous editions of the World Athletics Championships.

Southern Africa will be strongly represented in a number of events in Moscow. 

The region is looking to Amantle Montsho of Botswana, the current International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) 400m Women’s champion, to defend her crown in Moscow. 

Her attainment of world champion status is a major achievement for her, for Botswana and Africa. In addition, she has done very well in this year’s IAAF Diamond League. Southern Times Sport certainly wishes her all the very best of luck and success in her efforts.

However, despite these modest achievements, Southern Africa must not be fixated on high performance or elite athletes to the detriment of development at grass-roots level. 

With a great deal of hindsight, which is normal for any person or organisation, there are a lot of projects and programmes that the athletics authorities in the region could have implemented in the  past to unearth a lot more talent than what is currently on offer.  

The level of club development throughout the Southern Africa is not where it should be. 

The Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) Southern Region has not gone all out to foster the emergence and development of athletics clubs throughout Southern Africa. 

Clubs are the nuclei of athletics development in all the countries.

 There are just too few athletics clubs throughout the region to effectively develop the sport. 

There has been, over the years, an over-reliance on schools and the Confederation of Southern African Schools Sports Association (COSASSA), which has jurisdiction over sport in secondary schools in the region, to identify and develop talent.

Furthermore, the marketing of athletics programmes has been skewed in favour of competitions and not the actual development of the sport code. 

Yes, local competitions are important but there is also need for greater focus and investment in the development of clubs, coaches and officials.

There is no doubt that there is an abundance of raw athletic talent in Southern Africa. This talent can only be properly harnessed and show-cased to the world through well-structured development programmes and competitions. 

This is quite possible through strategic partnerships with sponsors and various other stakeholders.

I am sure many sport enthusiasts would agree with me that Southern Africa is sitting on top of a diamond mine of athletic talent. 

The athletics authorities need to engage strategic partners and sponsors to ensure that they unearth these stars and polish them for the world market.  

Athletics is now a very lucrative career as amply evidenced here in Africa by Kenyan and Ethiopian elite athletes who have now become not only household names but multi-millionaires using their God-given talent, competing in various major events in Europe, North America and Asia.

Even the poverty-stricken Caribbean islands have become renowned world-wide for their prowess and achievements in track and field athletics. 

The most prominent currently being World record holder in the 100m, Usain Bolt from Jamaica, whose sponsorship and product endorsement contracts make him one of the biggest earners in sport.

Indeed, athletics is not just the jewel in the crown of the Olympic Games but in the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) Zone VI as well. 

The athletics authorities must work hard to continue leading by example and ensure that they retain this status through unearthing and polishing more diamonds for exposure on the athletics world stage. 

The CAA – Southern Region supported by SCSA Zone VI and the Confederation of Southern African National Olympic Committees (COSANOC), must of necessity accelerate the development and empowerment of athletics bodies throughout the region.

The core business of the current and future leadership teams of the athletics authorities of Southern Africa is to transform the sport in the region and produce many more stars to take over the baton from the past and current stars. 

This transformation, which sport lovers in Southern Africa anticipate, is indeed attainable, step-by-step, child by child, and athlete by athlete.

Athletics authorities should not betray this mission, especially considering the peace, stability and relative economic prosperity in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) compared to the other parts of Africa as well as the rest of the developing world.

Everything that is needed is right here in Southern Africa but there is need for a strong and vibrant athletics authorities to ensure that the necessary development programmes and projects are effectively implemented. 

Greatness is beckoning for Southern African athletics but as the old adage goes, “Time and tide wait for no man”. The time to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into the job at hand is now! The Southern Times wishes all African athletes the very best of luck and success in Moscow. 

We trust them to bring back a lot more gold medals to the continent.

August 2013
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