Celebrating Southern African sports heroes: Building role models
Sport is an intriguing industry. It has the potential to grip the attention of a nation or region. It has unique power to invoke pride within a community, nation or region. However, in Shakespearean philosophy, the evil deeds of men are remembered long after they are gone but their good deeds are often buried with them. In this connection, there is need for a comprehensive strategy for remembering those sports heroes who have brought pride and glory to their countries and the region as a whole.
To this end, there is need to revamp and re-energise the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 Sports Museum concept and Hall of Fame. These are good initiatives but are not being backed up by the private sector and general public of Southern Africa. Sports heroes and heroines should not just be celebrated by placing their posters in a museum or hall of fame but they should be given roles as sports ambassadors. These selected sports ambassadors should be accorded opportunities to grace regional tournaments as a way of inspiring the younger generations.
Too often, sports authorities like to identify with sports stars when they are still active. The moment they retire, the sports stars are relegated into the garbage bin of history. Things become very tough for those that did not invest wisely while they were still earning good money through sport. For some sports codes such as karate, darts, chess or table tennis it is very difficult in the Southern African scenario to earn any significant money through sport.
Unless you have another career to fall back on during and after your years of active participation and competition in the sport, you will have serious financial challenges. That is why sometimes parents and rightfully so, urge their children to concentrate on their academic pursuits rather than sport. The parents view sport as a distraction for which their children will never be recognised and rewarded for their efforts.
It is up to sports authorities to change this mindset by ensuring that national and regional sports heroes and heroines are given due recognition and support. Sports men and women do sacrifice a lot in representing their countries in continental and international competitions.
Too often the glory goes to sports administrators who have not even been putting their bodies on the line. Sports men and women risk everything in their drive to for excellence. Careers, family and social life are affected as sports persons have to train intensively and prepare for competitions. In most cases, they are either alone or accompanied by their coaches and trainers as they bid to bring pride and glory to their countries.
There is need for construction of a Southern African Sports Museum and Hall of Fame which will become the physical repository of the region’s rich sports history. This should be the place where the region’s great sports persons are inducted into the hall of fame. There should be nothing to stop individual Southern African countries to have their own national sports museums and halls of fame but development of a regional one is a must as there are certain sports people who deserve that recognition.
Their ability and influence was felt throughout the region and therefore they also deserve regional recognition. In this connection, there is need to take a cue from developed countries in terms of recognition accorded to their great sports people. Although he retired almost four decades ago, Muhammad Ali is still “the greatest”.
He has been taken into the hearts and minds of Americans as a symbol of great sportsmanship and determination. Even as age, ill health and frailty take over, Ali remains a much celebrated and recognized icon of American sport. England has the great Sir Bobby Charlton, a prolific goal scorer for club and country in the 1960s and early seventies. He remains today as a fantastic ambassador of English football and a Manchester United FC Board Director.
Even Lord Sebastian Coe’ success in the recent elections of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was premised on the fact that he had tremendous support from his home country who have never forgotten his great contribution to British sport as an athlete. Germany has its “Kaiser”, the legendary Franz Beckenbauer. France has Michel Platini who is today the president of Europe’s football governing body, UEFA.
Brazil has too many heroes in football because of their unparalleled love for the soccer. Edson Arantes dos Nascimento popularly known as “Pele” is the country’s favourite son. The three-time FIFA World Cup winner played a critical role in bring the World Cup to Brazil in 2014. Southern Africa has got many great sports persons who need to be celebrated while they are still alive. Obviously and most unfortunately, some have to be accorded posthumous recognition. However, that is better than non-recognition at all.
Yes, the great sports men and women belong first and foremost to their individual countries but they should be celebrated throughout Southern Africa.
Some of the Southern African champions who deserve to be in the Regional Sports Hall of Fame are Nick Price and Ernie Els the golfers from Zimbabwe and South Africa respectively. In athletics, who can forget the great exploits of Frank Fredericks and Maria Mutola of Namibia and Mozambique, respectively. Football has the great Kinnah Phiri of Malawi, Flavio and Manucho of Angola, Kalusha Bwalya of Zambia, Jomo Sono, Lucas Radebe and Bennie McCarthy of South Africa as well as Peter Ndlovu and Moses Chunga of Zimbabwe. Swimming has Ryk Neethling, Chad le Clos, Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa as well as the inspirational Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe. It is up to the sports authorities to ensure that achievements of these great men and women are etched in the memories of the generations to come. Failure to do so will be a great travesty of justice!