• April 1st, 2020

2019 under review: The good, the bad and ugly of Namibian sports

WINDHOEK – As the curtain comes down on the year 2019, New Era Sport would like to take you, our esteemed readers, down memory lane as we reflect on the highs and lows of the local sports fraternity during the past year. 

As has become the tradition, especially when the good supplants the bad, we will start our year-end review with the numerous achievements that dominated headlines on the local sports arena in 2019, starting off with the national senior netball team, the Desert Jewels.

The Desert Jewels, as the Namibian senior netball side is affectionately known, this year shook off some unwanted rust on their diadems to surprise all and sundry when they outfoxed host nation Singapore 49-42 in a jaw-dropping final to win the 2019 edition of the coveted M1 Nations Cup.

Not only did the Desert Jewels make history with their M1 Nations Cup success, but the often underfinanced Namibian ladies signalled the country’s return to former glory days when Namibia was ranked among the crème de la crème of African netball, especially in the southern nook of the continent.

Netball Namibia (NN), the body that presides over netball locally, and all Namibians in general are heavily indebted to marine diamond giant Debmarine Namibia for bankrolling almost all activities of NN and by extension the national team. 

Debmarine’s worthwhile investment has helped propel Namibian netball to global heights and has equally granted the girls an opportunity to realise the dream of plying their trade globally and making the country proud. Debmarine took NN under its financial wings when no corporate in Namibia wanted to associate themselves with local netball, and with a perfect strategy and a clear roadmap their praiseworthy collaboration exceeded the expectations of many. 

A whale of a thank you goes out to Debmarine Namibia – one can only hope and pray that this partnership is the beginning of many more good things to come. Not only did NN impress on the international scene, but the local netball governing body also aggressively rolled out its development programmes through the Debmarine Namibia Senior Regional Netball Championship, which proved a vital platform for rural and school netballers who many a time lack access to competitive tournaments at national level.
Moving on to athletics, Namibia’s empress of long distance running Helalia Johannes owned the athletics track this year with her unmatched dominance nationally, regionally and continentally as well as globally.

At an advanced age of 38 and still paddling on a remarkable career spanning over 14 years, the soft-spoken Johannes continues to cement her name in the marathon event and remains a force to be reckoned with in the world’s long distance running.

This year, Johannes added more souvenirs to her already glittering cabinet when she became the first Namibian female athlete to win a medal (bronze) at the World Athletics Championships held in Doha this year, before going on to deliver another scintillating performance to win the 2019 prestigious Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon held in Cape Town.

Not only that, Johannes also stole more headlines when she won all six legs of the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge Grand Prix to become the most successful athlete in the history of the race. But not only did Johannes win all six races, but she did so in record times.  She became the first runner in the history of the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge Grand Prix to claim maximum points finishing with a total of 180 points.   

With her Spar Women’s 10km Challenge Grand Prix success, Johannes also smashed her Namibian 10km national record several times and shortly before the final race in Johannesburg. The veteran marathoner also scooped gold at this year’s World Military Games held in China. Given her endless list of achievements for the year under review, Johannes emerged as the biggest winner at this year’s Namibia Annual Sports Awards (NASA), scooping the MTC Sports Star and Sportswoman of the Year accolades.

Moving on to boxing, local boxing also enjoyed its fair share of success this year although it was not as amplifying as previous years. But Namibian fighters however managed to remain on course this year as they won and retained various titles.

Jeremiah ‘Lowkey’ Nakathila earlier this month stopped Zimbabwean opponent Peter Pambeni in the eighth round to retain his WBO Global lightweight belt at the Windhoek Country Club to remain on course for much bigger opportunities in the near future. 

Another local fighter Mikka Shonena also earned his stripes this year when he brushed aside Chinese opponent Youli Dong to maintain a stronghold on his WBO international welterweight title at Ongwediva, while Sakaria “Desert Storm” Lukas also made a thundering return to the ring with a third round knockout win over Malawi’s Raston Kayira and now looks set to storm into 2020 with renewed vigour and determination. 

Meanwhile, credit should also go to new kid on the block AC Boxing Promotions for bringing a new lease of life to local boxing while also giving upcoming and veteran boxers an opportunity to showcase their talents. 

Still on the positives, Namibia’s Paralympic athletes continue to be the pride and joy of the nation as they continuously stamp their authority on the international Paralympics arena. Just this year, Johannes Nambala again placed the country on the map when he scooped two medals at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai. Nambala won bronze in the men’s T13 100m race before going on to add a gold medal in the T13 400m event.

Also dominating headlines this year were the Brave Warriors, who defied all odds to qualify for next year’s African Nations Championship (Chan) finals to be held in Cameroon in January. It will be Namibia’s second appearance at the continental football showpiece, having first appeared at last year’s edition held in Egypt.

The Warriors, who are under the mentorship of interim gaffer Bobby Samaria, also put up a great show when they defeated Eritrea 4-1 on aggregate to progress to the group stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, which will resume next year.

The Namibia senior rugby side, the Welwitschias, also made their sixth Rugby World Cup appearance in Japan this year, where they for the umpteenth time made little impact as the Namibian amateurs bowed out in the pool stage of the global rugby showpiece. Namibia has never made it past the pool stage of the Rugby World Cup since making her first appearance in 1999.

But the highlight of Namibia’s 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign was the inclusion of more youngsters in the squad, especially youngsters of colour (black), which was a serious demonstration from the Namibia Rugby Union (NRU) that they mean business when they speak of transformation and equal opportunity in local rugby. 

And speaking of development, New Era Sport also doffs its hat to Cricket Namibia (CN) for a job well done with their new strategic plan of rolling out development programmes to various schools across the country, which targets schools that were previously left out of mainstream cricket activities.

… the bad and ugly

The local sports fraternity also experienced its fair share of challenges and tribulations – especially the football community and by extension the entire sports sector. Chief amongst this year’s setbacks was the repulsive dogfight between the Namibia Premier League (NPL) and the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee (NC) for the Namibia Football Association (NFA), which resulted in the NPL being slapped with suspension and leaving the league on the brink of losing its valued sponsors MTC and FNB Namibia.

The battle of egos and power between the two football entities (NPL and NFA) continued unhindered despite numerous peace calls and warnings from local and global football stakeholders, including the media. But the NPL and NFA’s longing for a boardroom victory one over the other appeared too big for them to realise the consequences of their childish actions.

The marathon boardroom tussle, which was disgracefully hallmarked by endless emails and a bunch of letters between the two, finally ended up in the Windhoek High Court and saw the NPL losing that round on grounds the court had no jurisdiction to look into the case. The NPL has since appealed the High Court judgement with the Supreme Court and the outcome of that appeal remains awaited.

In the midst of all the drama, the targeted beneficiaries and treasured assets of our football – the players – have immensely suffered and have since gone for months without putting food on their tables. The unquenchable egos of our local football administrators caused serious economic, emotional and psychological distress to local players and their prospects of playing football very soon remain bleak as there is no clear indication as to when football will return to our shores. Not only have the players suffered but the skirmish between NFA and NPL has ominously caused reputational damage to brands sponsoring football – hence MTC’s position not to renew its sponsorship contract with the league come end of the yet-to-start 2019/20 season.

There is a whole range of issues that needs serious attention and corrective measures from the various authorities tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the growth and success of Namibian sports. Nonetheless, allow us once again to take this opportunity to wish you, our esteemed readers, advertisers and all stakeholders a Merry Christmas and Prosperous 2020!

Otniel Hembapu
2019-12-20 15:13:50 | 3 months ago

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