Junior Development – The Rise and Rise of the AUSC Under 20 Games

The African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Under 20 Games have become a much anticipated event in Southern Africa. This important bi-ennial regional event was started more than 10 years ago in Maputo, Mozambique. Subsequently, the games have been to Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia and recently, Zimbabwe. The next edition of the games in 2016 will be in Benguela, Angola and in 2018, the event will make its way to Botswana. Obviously, for an event that brings together about 3 500 athletes and officials from all of Southern Africa, challenges are expected to be there.  

However, the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 (and its predecessor organization, the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) Zone VI), needs to be congratulated for a job well done. They have stuck with their product through thick and thin. They have ensured that this event is celebrated regularly in the region, unlike in other parts of Africa.

The games constitute, for most young athletes, the first international platform where they can display their skills in rigorous competition. The AUSC Region 5 are indeed a regional pinnacle event for junior development and competition across the nine sports codes regularly competed in at the games. These games prepare the young athletes for even tougher competition at continental and international level.

Winning of medals at continental and international events is always a product of hard work, dedication and commitment by the players, technical teams, national sports associations (NSAs), governments and sponsors. There are many other relevant stakeholders, including most importantly, the fans who throng the stadiums, to support wholeheartedly, the engagement of their athletes and teams in competitive and friendly matches.

Qualifying for finals of major international events raises the bar of expectations on the part of sports lovers in Southern African nations. Meeting them is another thing altogether. To this end, there is need for strategic planning on the part of NSAs to sustain the pursuit of excellence by national teams for both men and women and at all levels. For Southern Africa to continue registering successes and rising up the ranks of various international sports federations, there is need for greater prioritization of and investment in grass-roots programmes and junior development. “Catching them young” should be the catch-phrase and approach for all NSAs in Southern Africa.  Successful countries in world sport from both developed and developing countries such as Australia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Spain, Germany, and Holland have invested heavily in junior development programmes, sports academies and schools of excellence. The existence of lucrative, viable and well managed league structures at all levels is also a big plus factor for development of national teams.

However, a simple survey of Southern Africa would most probably reveal the absence of junior structures for more than half of them. There are no junior sports leagues to provide for rigorous skills development and competition at an early age. This is in direct contrast to modern sports science. In terms of sports science, the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) approach has been widely adopted by many sports organizations and countries. The LTAD avers that it takes 8-10 years to produce a world class athlete. This means that the NSAs need to start now in identifying athletes who will represent their countries at major games such as the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2024 Summer Olympic Games.

The Southern African region is probably the most prosperous and stable in Africa, providing for a conducive environment for the greater development of sport as an industry. Governments continue to try their best with the limited resources at their disposal. However, greater sport sponsorship is needed in order to consolidate the gains being made in Southern African sport. Corporate sponsors in the form of the big brands are also required to come on board in a big way to support the good work of the AUSC Region 5 and not leave everything for governments.  

The quality of the AUSC Region 5 Games cannot be dramatically improved without the input of private sector funding. Prize money and other forms of incentives need to be provided for athletes and teams at an event such as the AUSC Region 5 Games to increase the quality of competition. This means that the marketing of the games by the AUSC Region 5 itself must change.

The future of Southern African sport is already here with us.  The future is indeed bright. Very bright! Sport administrators and coaches must keep the fires burning through sound strategies, plans and decisions. Young Southern Africans have now proven beyond reasonable doubt that they, indeed, have the talent to compete with the best in the world, earn a living for themselves through sport and make their countries and the region as a whole very proud. 

What they need are the right support services, which in most cases do not require a lot of money, just good planning and management. There will, obviously, be further ups and downs on the way but compromising on high standards and failure are not options. They should never be!

June 2015
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