TALKING TANZANIA SPORT WITH MZEE RASHID KAWAWA
I recently had the rare opportunity of meeting Mzee Rashid Kawawa, former Vice-President of Tanzania, during his visit to London. I talked to him about sports development in Tanzania, an issue I am very interested in. My first question to Mzee Kawawa was his opinion on sports in general in Tanzania in terms of the country’s performance and international competition and the future of sports in school.
He agreed that performance has gone down compared to the past. “Migogoro ni mingi sana kwenye vyombo vya michezo”. There are a lot of conflicts among sports authorities and the problem of under resources. He also outlined how many sports leaders are taking development of sports for granted and there is reluctance to invest in sports from the grassroots in order to bring in new blood. Despite the new technologies in the world of sport, we are still behind other countries, and have to be content with watching others competing successfully on the international sporting stage. We are struggling to qualify for many international competitions which could allow our teams and players to get attention from international media and therefore wider awareness of our country.
He went on to criticise lack of competition in sport between schools. The importance of sports competitions in schools was very vital for competition. Last year, to show the importance of sports, he organised a sports day in his village of Kiluvya, on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam region, and invited teams from other areas to take part. Without competition, it is very difficult for children to be motivated to train and practice more and raise their standards. It is not sufficient just to play without having goals to work towards. Competitions also motivate children as it provides travelling opportunities to other areas of the country thereby also developing their awareness of their country.
He talked about leaders taking part in sports more in order to keep fit but also to motivate the next generation to participate in sports. He recalled how, in the past after official duties, the leaders met at Kinondoni Leaders Club to enjoy ball games, cards, bao, dhumna and other sports and leisure activities. Nowadays, there are no more leaders clubs in the country. For example, in Dodoma, we used to have the Kilimani club where people played table tennis and snooker. We need to generally revive sports interest in the country and use community centres for sports activities more effectively. He also pointed out that although there is now the new trend in gyms opening up, these are inaccessible to many people. It is crucial that people in rural areas and nationwide generally can all benefit easily from sports opportunities.
Youth sports programmes are very important, he said, and he gave the example of the Arsenal youth program where young talent is encouraged and grows because young footballers are identified and supported to grow and are also surrounded by the older experienced players which provides a big source of motivation. The Arsenal team scouts worldwide looking for new talent. If countries had solid youth sports programmes and competitions in place the most talented would have a better chance of coming forward and being recognized.
Mzee Kawawa went on to point how the majority of African international football players playing with the large clubs are from West Africa, for example Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. There are hardly any from East Africa, particularly Tanzania. Or for instance, in the USA there are many African basketball players involved with the large basketball clubs. We do not see this export of sports talent much from Tanzania. This is of concern as there is good political stability in Tanzania providing a good context to develop sport. He concluded that we need to work hard in terms of providing opportunities and competition for sports to be developed among youth, monitor performance and talent so that particularly gifted sports players can be identified at a young age and supported through good coaching and training to make it to the top.
He went on to outline that it is not good to just concentrate on football as there are other sports which can help to bring Tanzania to the international level. For example basketball, handball, volleyball, athletics, netball and individual sports. Also, disability sports need more support in order to enable them to have the opportunity to display their talent in various sports.
Coaches and sports leaders need proper training both in Tanzania and overseas so that they can get internationally recognised qualifications putting them in a stronger position to lead in bringing forward new talent.
I asked him why the last government under CCM stopped the schools sports competitions, UMITASHUMTA and UMISETA. He said that it was not clear but he was not in favour of this lack of competition between schools and emphasised that under the new government things will change and sports will probably get more attention. He felt confident that President Jakaya Kikwete will keep the promise to re-introduce UMITASHUMTA and UMISETA from school to national level which will hopefully one day lead our country once again to new sports glories.
I asked him which football team he supports in Tanzania. He said that he could not say but that he was disappointed with “migogoro” among the club leaders and supporters and that people are wasting time and money arguing for no good reason which is affecting club performance. The way the clubs are being run in Tanzania need to be reviewed as decision making and leadership is not clear. Mzee Kawawa also enjoys watching the Premiership especially Arsenal and Chelsea.
Let’s hope the new government led by President Jakaya Kikwete will make changes and help Tanzanians to reach their full sports potential by investment, creating opportunities for players at all levels to be supported, bringing in support from business and the wider community as well as government support.