Results of this year’s All Africa Games which ended in Maputo lately have served to underline, if there were still some lingering doubts, as to Tanzania‘s near terminal decline in track and field sports.
Except in one ‘ball’ game, and with the ladies for that matter, where the national side obtained a bronze medal, there was little challenge our teams could put up with more experienced and experimented sides from all over Africa. Areas where we used to be known earlier, like boxing and even marathon, are lost.
Despite last minute, almost ritual promises from the various national coaches that we have ability to get medals, not to say in at least one game, it was clear from the start that a medal in any of the games was going to be something of a miracle. Not surprisingly it did not happen, as nations are rewarded for the amount of effort they put in preparing their teams, or the diligence they have to set up appropriate links between growing up and doing sports. It isn’t a matter of picking players but their life long facilitation.
The difference between Tanzania and most other countries especially in East and Central Africa, about whose environments we are likely to be more familiar, is that economic growth leads to more facilities for youth to engage in training and exposure locally and outside.
In Tanzania this does not quite seem to be the case, with possible exception of soccer, which has attracted investment in a number of sport academies offering routine educational pursuits. Unattached building of track or field facilities is rare.
On that account, Tanzania is failing to use its natural endowment of talent from the East African Rift Valley section of the country in a manner that can be described, without effort at exaggeration, as a scandal. Kenya and Ethiopia, and especially the former, whose infrastructure in both economy and sports in the Rift Valley zone is
intensive, give regular crops of world class athletes, “while we sit aside and look” as Bob Marley said in the past. It is gross negligence of talent, had an athletics court existed.
It is a story of decline because in the past, these same structures sufficed for our national track and game sides to compete with others, for instance, in athletics, if one remembers the likes of Filbert Bayi and Suleiman Nyambui.
They are now top officials but they are used to the structures as they are used to operating or working with them, and don’t seem able to develop new ideas in how the sports should be organized, or facilities found. As usual, they put their mind to government financing, and insist on it.
To take sufficient note of the difference between Kenya and Tanzania at present, we took our best field and track athletes and achieved nothing, while our neighbors opted to take a second string athletics side as their ‘professionals’ were engaged in well financed competitions abroad.
While we have lost hope of earning a medal at the All Africa Games – which in the past was our favorite hunting ground along with the Commonwealth Games – they put up competition and earn a string of medals with a substitute national side. The issue isn’t government financing; it is economic structure in which sport is irrelevant.
Just how this situation is ended and we return to a state of being able to use our track and field abilities in potential terms remains a mystery.
Sports is returning to schools but the extent of malnutrition and poverty at grassroots level is rising, implying that competitive ability is not rising. That is the difficulty.