Rock bottom:When Tanzania has two confirmed athletes for Tokyo Olympic

04May 2021
Michael Eneza
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Rock bottom:When Tanzania has two confirmed athletes for Tokyo Olympic

WHAT was to be feared is now nearly a certainty, though there is room to increase somewhat the number of Tanzanian athletes capable of participating in the Tokyo Olympics, still known by their Tokyo 2020 tag and as yet remain in abeyance.

Tanzanian athlete, Failuna Abdi Matanga.

The Japanese are undecided about allowing tens of thousands of athletes and officials into the country even with a vaccination passport as with the year’s pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, where such a stamp will be enough.

Japan is far more populous and circumspect, hesitant.

Tanzania Olympic Committee (TOC) secretary general Filbert Bayi made this observation in the past month, saying there was still room for other athletes like boxing and swimming in particular to get confirmation of qualification from the Games organizers.

It was also observed that even in the past most Tanzanian athletes to have qualified for Olympics were drawn from auxiliary extras after failing in the qualification test itself, but this year the chances are even narrower.

Open events and interactions have been strained on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, which also forced the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Looking at the tally of how Tanzanian athletes have qualified for Olympic Games in the past three or four decades, there is no question that there is a gradual decline that is noticeable for its persistence, it is not a situation of ups and downs but clear and consistent decline.

That means there is nothing that has happened practically since 1974 that could have reversed or corrected this situation, which implies that the issue is not in the first place one of leadership, as this has changed once in a whole.

Still there is a tendency at persistence of leaders Tanzania Olympics Committee leaders, regularly re-elected by field stakeholders.

As the country’s qualification ability has consistently declined and the TOC leadership and other areas (for instance in the Athletics Association) has remained stable, that implies the leaders and especially Bayi have never been blamed for the situation.

It implies that both the leaders and their field companions, namely field stakeholders like officials of the various athletics bodies contributing delegates to either AAT or TOC do not have the feeling that it is leadership failure that brought about this tendency, and instead it is natural forces of some sort.

Simply, competitions are held but good talent doesn’t come up.

On a similar note, athletics officials have not been beard –or rarely so – to openly grumble about the way in which the government dissociates or fails to associate itself with TOC in seeking out talent, providing the right environment for young talent to build, etc.

That is not to say there are not unmet expectations in those ranks but they rarely break out into the open as clear differences of perspective, or dissent in the various professional categories, but just unfulfilled wishes on their part.

In addition, it also appears that they comprehend  the level of athletics facilitation by the government, that it is not special or entitled to special consideration, since other games like swimming and especially boxing have usually fared better.

That is precisely where the problem is located, that while there have been negative conditions for the growth of athletics and international prowess for most of the past 40 years, or more intensely for the past 20 years, other games have done better.

Swimming is a relative newcomer and conspicuous talent has come up in that regard, but as it is not a sufficiently popular sport, some youngsters showing plenty of promise in that field were ‘abducted’ by interested professionals outside to develop their talent elsewhere.

Once they are outside the sphere of local competition, there is scant possible media mention afterwards, removing the role model function of such talent when they make strides, earning meals in other countries.

Since there are games that are doing well but athletics is doing badly, and has largely continued to flop as the years go by, we need to look closely at the issues to figure out what is missing.

Most poignantly is the lack of full blow talent to come from the Rift Valley regions in like manner not just as in nearby countries but also here, in the past, with the bigger Arusha region and to an extent Singida region giving the country an excellent crop of athletes from independence to the early 1980s.

Then for some reason we appear more or less incapable of raising new talent, or it is once in five or 10 years, with isolated athletes.

It is actually hard to say what the problem is, but one reason could be the lack of resources in education where schools scarcely maintain regular athletics pitches or other games, like gymnastics or swimming, etc.

For some reason village and school-based sprout of talent stopped or thinned out, where education policy targeting higher enrolment helped many pupils to reach school, but pared down facilities.

There is also less endowment of private schools compared to our neighbours, despite some rural academies having facilities where international contests can be held, as in Manyara region lately with a Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) U-20 tournament.

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