We must re-set our sports development priorities

If you happen to ask any Tanzanian to tell you the country’s number one sport, he will adamantly give you a straight forward answer; without fumbling, ‘It is soccer’.

If you go a bit further by asking him to justify why soccer is Tanzania’s number one sport, he would simply tell you it is because every Tom, Dick and Harry in the country likes it.

So, soccer has become Tanzania’s number one sport by virtue of its having a big number of fans and supporters and not by its being effective enough in increasing the country’s visibility in the various regional, continental and world class competitions.

Most countries with suitable sports development policies and programmes have a selected list of sports which are given priority for development. The prioritisation of these sports depends much on the nature of the country’s competitors in those given sports disciplines and the possibility to develop them to the highest levels of performance possible.

This is why Germans have tennis as their number one sport, Norway has skiing as their number one sport, Bulgaria had heavy events athletics (wrestling and weightlifting) as their number one sport and America has basketball as its number one sport, just to mention a few.

It is very saddening that sports disciplines which once played a very good role in increasing the country’s visibility in international sport have not been given an appropriate attention despite the abundant potentials of competitors.

The only sport which once made Tanzania hit the billboards and make big headlines in world sport is athletics. Names of athletes like Filbert Bayi, Suleiman Nyambui and Juma Ikangaa just to mention a few, brought about a lot of fame and glory to Tanzania.

I say it is saddening that athletics has not been accorded an appropriate attention because the country enjoys a lot of latent world class long distance runners, whose potentials have not been exploited to the maximum.

Tanzania is very lucky because the Rift Valley from which most world class long distance champions and athletes come from, passes through. Countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya have effectively made use of the natural athletics talents scattered along the Rift Valley and they have succeeded to make them become world class competitors.

If you happen to be watching any top level athletic programme in televisions, you always find that Kenyans are dominating in 3,000m and 5,000m in most world class competitions while Ethiopians and Eritreans are dominating in 10,000m and marathons.

The three neighbouring East African countries have made long distance running their priority sports discipline because they have athletes who can bring home medals and fame through effective participation in various competitions. Athletes of those countries have been cared for and given all the required assistance, technical and psychological, to become what they are.

This has become successful because the authorities in those countries found out that it is through long distance athletics events that their countries could be properly represented and recognised in the international sporting arena.

Arguably, it is not too late for Tanzania to rethink its priorities when it comes to prosperity in global sport.

Much has been done to see our soccer prosper to the best standards possible but the sport has failed to deliver the goods.

Tanzania has a chance to make sport advocate its beauty and splendor through the use of long distance athletes whose number is enormous all along the Rift Valley like from Manyara, Arusha, Singida and Dodoma regions.

If Tanzania is to increase its visibility through sport then, athletics through long distance disciplines should be the country’s number one sport. I wish someone could have ears to hear me; for the good of Tanzania.

Syllersaid Mziray is a lecturer-cum-soccer coach


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