Welcome to the 2018 sporting year

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

The 2017 sporting year has come and gone. Sporting enthusiasts, especially football lovers have been waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Billions of people will be watching on television when the global show-case of football kicks off in Russia on 14 June 2018.

As Southern Africans, we have no choice but to lick our wounds and support Africa’s five representatives in the tournament who are Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. Southern African football has been in steady decline and unless this trend is arrested, there might be no teams from the region at the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East in 2022 in Qatar. There have been, in the recent past, some terribly harsh lessons for the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) and its member associations.

Whether the football leaders in the region will learn anything remains to be seen. It is true that actions speak louder than words.  It is no secret that some football leaders have egos as huge as Mount Kilimanjaro.  They think that because football is the most popular sport, things will remain the same ad inifitum.

This is a dangerous illusion! Football (soccer) can be toppled! By tradition, it is not even the favourite pastime of the USA and Canada, two huge sport markets in the world. American Football, baseball, Ice hockey and basketball reign supreme in North America.

Other sport codes, athletics, basketball, tennis and rugby are making inroads in Southern Africa. Football leaders really need to roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work.

Other huge sporting attractions will manifest themselves in 2018 such as the Commonwealth Games to be held in the Gold Coast, Australia in April. The Commonwealth Games remain a passionate affair for the English – speaking former colonies and territories of the British Empire. It is therefore wrong to dismiss the Commonwealth as just a vestige of imperialism.

Over the years, The Commonwealth, as an organisation, has contributed tremendously to various aspects of human development in its member countries. The Commonwealth Games are therefore an affirmation, in sporting terms, of the goodwill, cooperation and friendship that can be developed by erstwhile bitter foes. For the athletes, Commonwealth medals are just as valuable as World Championships and Olympic ones. The games actually provide a useful platform for athletes from the Commonwealth countries to compete and test themselves against the best in the world.

It is a pity that Zimbabwean athletes, will once again, be denied a unique opportunity to show-case their talent and represent their country. All is not lost as the new government has pledged to re-engage with all its previous partners in the global arena.  The French-speaking countries have their Francophone Games and the Portuguese speaking their Lusophone equivalent. It is all well in sporting terms as the various events provide opportunities to compete and horn the skills.

On the continental front, the Africa Youth Games will take place in Algiers in July, this will be a launch pad for international sporting careers for young African sports men and women. The Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) need to be commended for regularly organising the multi-sport major event for African youth since 2010 Rabat (Morocco) and 2014 Gaborone (Botswana).

The African Youth Games have already become a much anticipated event on the African continent. It is great that the host of the 2022 event has already been designated as this gives the host country a lot of time to prepare. In speaking about the Africa Youth Games, it would be remiss tow omit the name of veteran Zimbabwean sport leader, Robert Mutsauki.  As ANOCA Technical Director, Mutsauki was, undoubtedly, the brains and driving force of the two editions of the Africa Youth Games.

The 2018 and 2022 editions of these games can benefit from the solid experience of the first two games driven by Robert Mutsauki, one of the many unsung heroes of African sport.

In track and field athletics, in 2018, it is expected that Southern African athletes will continue to shine in the IAAF Diamond League. Southern Africa has got some wonderful sprinters in the 100m, 200m and 400m. If the youngsters are well looked after by their respective athletics authorities, they can continue to represent their countries with distinction, honour and pride. Wayde Van Niekerk (South Africa), obviously, is at the top of the food chain but others are coming up who can upset the status quo such as Baboloki Thebe and Karabo Sibanda(Botswana) as well as Kabange Mupopo and Sydney Siame of Zambia.

At a global level, the World Under 20 Athletics Championships in July will also provide another unique opportunity for young track and field athletes from the region to make a name for themselves.

2018 will be a packed sporting year. It is safe to buckle up and enjoy the roller coaster ride. The Southern Times Sports Forum will be the number one fan and rooting for all Southern African sports persons and teams in 2018. Happy New Year!

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January 2018
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