We live in an unequal world. The obvious absence of Africans in Paralympics 2012 was a shining reality. Since it started in 1960- and got established officially in 1988 in Seoul, Korea- the Paralympics has seen Tanzania only four times.
Wait a minute. The whole concept long time ago; in 1948. German born Professor Ludwig Guttmann, a neuro-surgeon was forced to flee the Nazis persecution of Jews before the Second World War. So respected was Dr. Guttmann that Britain welcomed him with a financial boost of £ 250 ( equivalent to 10,000 pounds today; approx 25 million shillings) to start a life with his family and carry on researching at Spine Injuries clinic in Radcliffe, Oxford. Worried at the state of wounded and disabled soldiers returning from the Nazi war, the doctor thus began a project of rehabilitation which in its initial stage was frowned at. A few years a later disabled soldiers competed annually at Mandeville, England.
Back to Tanzania.
Our debut was in Barcelona in 1992 where Noorel Shariff played tennis. We were silent for twelve years and resurfaced in Athens, 2004….with Wilbert Constantine (800 meters) and Mwanaidi Ngitu ( 100 and 200 meters) then Ernest Nyabalale at 2008 Beijing, Paralympics. This year Zaharani Mwenemti( leg disability) competed in shot-put and discus.
Why such a small representation?
“We have good athletes, many and capable. I know athletes who are even better than me.” Zaharani told me during an exclusive interview last week.
“The countries that have been prominent,” explained head of team, Johnson Meela. “ i.e. South Africa and North Africans have excellent economies.”
But surely it has to do with priorities. How come our neighbour, Kenya manages?
Meela: “Wheelchair for a disabled person… costs at least 6 million shillings. Should these chairs be bought for athletes or for hospital bound Tanzanians? Who should be prioritised? That is what the government has to decide.”
According to Wikipedia a pair of artificial legs (prosthetics) costs at least 5,000 US dollars (around 7.8 million shillings). How about sophisticated prosthetic blades similar to those used by South African star, Oscar Pistorius? The Government has to ask itself questions.
European and developing nations such as Brazil and China prioritise sports because they “can see” the long term connection between sports, health and social growth.
Great Britain has taken number two position in Paralympics next to China (better than traditional winners US and Russia)…she was weak in Atlanta, 1996, but what an improvement! And so has the numbers of Paralympians. In 1960 it was 400 athletes (representing 23 nations) to 3,500 athletes from 104 nations in 1996 Atlanta and eventually 4,233 Paralympians (204 countries) in London 2012.
While the world’s figures rise, ours have remained the same.
Participation in sports tournaments, boosts the morale of a nation. At the moment many Tanzanians are saddened (and demoralised) by the violent killing of journalist Daudi Mwangosi last weekend. At such times having our own Alan Oliveira (Brazilian sprinter who challenged Pistorius) would uplift everyone’s spirits.
London, 8th September, 2012.
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