Development of athletics in Southern Africa – The quantum leap forward

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

THE Athletics World Championships are back!  The much awaited event will take place in London (4-13 August 2017). New kings and queens will be crowned in August.    

We wait to see the next generation of legendary performers in track and field athletics. It is also an exciting time for Southern Africa. 

The rise of South Africans Wayde van Niekerk (400m), Akani Simbine (100m)   and   Luvo Munyonga (Long Jump) has given hope that the region can be a force to reckon in world athletics.

Botswana has also produced worthy contenders in the 400m, where the country’s young and energetic relay team won silver at the World Relay Championships held in Barbados recently.

There is no doubt that the Coe regime being mindful of the scandals recent that engulfed the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) are working hard to develop athletics and retain its revered status as the “jewel in the crown of the Olympics”. 

The annual Athletics Diamond League, World Junior Championships and the World Championships are now very marketable and much anticipated events in world sport.

The events command a very respectable following in terms of television and general media coverage.

Almost every sport lover is always on tenterhooks when battle lines are drawn on the track with various contenders such Usain Bolt, Adam Gemili, Justin Gaitlin, Kirani James and others involved. 

Africa has also contributed very much to the competition at world level, with the likes of Haile Gebresellasie, Kenenisa Bekele, David Rudisha and Nigel Amos, providing thrilling moments in the history of athletics.

As much as we can hail President Seb Coe and his team for numerous achievements on the world stage, they have also come short on a number of critical issues.

For example, the world championships are still rotating amongst the wealthy and developed countries.

There are apparently no current efforts towards building capacity and enabling some aspiring countries and candidate cities from middle-income and developing countries to organise and host the world championships.

Of course, revenue (cash) is always king but sport must go beyond that to ensure diversity, equality, equity and universality in the organization and hosting of major competitions.

The successful organisation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa has proven beyond reasonable doubt that, given a chance, Africa can also host profitable international events which can add value to any sport.

This is the message that needs to be driven home in the minds of executive boards of international federations. 

Furthermore, there is need for a concerted effort from Africans themselves when they go these electoral congresses to seek genuine assurances that the continent will receive its fair share of revenues and other benefits emanating from these international sports federations.

The promotion of sport tourism through hosting of world class events is one way of raising the profile of Africa in international affairs and ensuring that the continent is a destination of choice for general tourism and foreign direct investment.

Africa must continue to stake its claim for parity and recognition in global affairs and international trade.  Sport is a good place to start and it is an enabler or accelerator of other benefits.

In this connection, the Executive Board of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) and member federations must not just be excited about going to London to attend the IAAF General Assembly and attend to routine business.

They must go to London with a definite agenda of seeking assurances and commitment from the IAAF in terms of support to transform African athletics.

Of course, performances by African athletes at the World Championships in London are important.

Good performances will help to motivate other young athletes to take up the sport which is good for overall development.

However, there is and must be a bigger agenda for athletics in Africa. Continuing to lament the underdevelopment of the continent and limited financial resources is not going help to Africa.

African sport organisations such as the CAA can also be catalysts for economic development on the continent provided they are pursuing excellence in all aspects of sport management.

African athletics federations, especially those from Southern Africa, should be the voice of reason.

The current status quo in terms of hosting of premier athletics events can no longer be sustained.

It is unfair and unreasonable to expect other continents to be always traveling to events hosted by others, with no possibility, in the near future, of also hosting those major events. This is simply unacceptable.

The CAA Executive Committee must actively encourage and support candidate cities from Africa to bid to host the World Athletics Championships.

Even the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) can play an important role in lobbying African governments to invest in world class facilities for purposes of hosting high profile in international events such the World Athletics championships. 

It is also in their interest to ensure that Africa is hosting prestigious international events rather than be known just as a continent of hunger, war, diseases, poverty and deprivation.

However, honest and open loyalty can never be a crime especially where there is merit and transparency. Charity begins at home.

There is definitely need for an African city to bid for and organize the IAAF World Championships in the near future.

It would be great if the World Championships can be held in Southern Africa.

It would leave a rich legacy for the development of athletics in Southern Africa. That is the challenge for this sub-region!

May 2017
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