• September 29th, 2020

30 years on, sport challenges persist

As Namibia readies herself to celebrate 30 years of democracy, peace and political stability, New Era gives you, our esteemed reader, a thorough look at how far Namibian sport has evolved over the past 30 years. We especially focus on the country’s many achievements at continental and global levels, while also looking at the various shortcomings in the local sporting sector.

 Over the years, local football, especially the country’s senior football team, the Brave Warriors, has been Namibia’s biggest pride and symbol of national unity. The Namibia Football Association (NFA), which is the country’s football governing body, was founded in 1990, at independence, and only became an affiliate of both the world football governing body Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) and continental football presiding authority Confederation of African Football (CAF) in 1992.

 On the continental stage, Namibian football has, at all levels of competition, enjoyed its fair share of wins and losses but the wins have been more inspiring and memorable when gauged against the shortcomings, especially when one considers the fact that the country only turns 30 this month.
 In 1998, exactly eight years after Namibia gained her freedom from apartheid South Africa, the Brave Warriors defied all odds to make a historic maiden appearance at the 1998 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Burkina Faso, where they put up a courageous display but unfortunately bowed out in the first round of the competition.

 Again 10 years later, the Brave Warriors would bounce back and make another appearance at the Afcon, this time at the 2008 Afcon in Ghana where they once again failed to make it past the group stages despite a good overall performance.

 The 2008 Afcon was followed by another appearance last year in Egypt at the 2019 Afcon, which marked the country’s third appearance at the continental biggest football gathering, which for the umpteenth time saw the Brave Warriors again falling short of making it past the group phrase of the competition.
 At regional level (Southern African Development Community), the Brave Warriors have come of age and have slowly but surely taken up their place as one of the emerging football powerhouses in southern Africa. The Brave Warriors rewrote the history books when they won the Confederation of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) Cup in 2015 for the first time, while Namibia’s Under-17 team replicated the same feat when they claimed the 2016 edition of the Cosafa U/17 Cup in Mauritius.

 Despite playing under trying circumstances, the Brave Warriors qualified for this year’s African Nations Championship (Chan) finals to be held in Cameroon next month, which will be Namibia’s second appearance at the tournament. They first appeared at the 2018 edition held in Egypt.
 At government level, the NFA, on behalf of the Namibian government, successfully hosted the 2014 CAF African Women Championships, which is the continent’s biggest women football competition, and also followed that up by staging the 2016 Cosafa Cup, which saw the Brave Warriors winning the Plate competition of the tournament.

 Government, through the NFA and the line ministry, has over the years also hosted an avalanche of youth development football tournaments across the country, partnering with sister countries to accord the country’s youngsters an opportunity to showcase their talents.

 Unfortunately, activities in the country’s flagship football league, the Namibia Premier League (NPL), has, in recent years, not been smooth sailing, as all would have desired largely because of endless infightings and boardroom politics. The bickering within the NPL has pushed principal joint sponsors MTC and FNB Namibia to the brink of withdrawing their sponsorships, as the league has been inactive for an entire season with hundreds of young footballers left to fend for themselves. The relationship between the NFA and NPL has in recent times not been the best, with the two local football entities forever crossing swords over petty issues and that has played to the disadvantage of the players. Despite the many struggles faced, Namibian football still has a beautiful story to tell Africa and the world.
Boxers come of age
Moving to boxing, Namibia has surprised both friend and foe by unearthing a significant number of high-flying professional boxers over the years, led by the legendary Harry ‘The Terminator’ Simon, Paulus ‘The Hitman’ Moses, Paulus ‘The Rock’ Ambunda, Tyson Ushona and Julius ‘Blue Machine’ Indongo - all legends in their own rights, as they have all won multiple world titles in their respective categories over the years.

 At amateur level, Namibian boxers have also won several accolades continentally and internationally at various grand events ranging from the multi-sports Commonwealth Games, World Championships and Olympic Games, with young fighters such as Jonas Junias Jonas and Mathias Hamunyela all dominating on that front. Boxing is without an iota of doubt the most successful sporting discipline across the country.
 On the athletics track, the country has, over the years, managed to claim her place among the world’s best, especially the country’s Paralympic athletes, who have, of late, become the toast of the country - bringing distinct honour to the Land of the Brave.

Ever since the days of the legendary Frankie Fredericks - Namibia’s only four-time Olympics silver medallist and by far the country’s most successful athlete of all time - the country has struggled a bit to remain on par with the rest of the world in track events. 

 But there is still hope, as Namibia’s empress of long distance running Helalia Johannes remains the country’s pride and joy in long distance running, staying atop with her unmatched dominance nationally, regionally, continentally and globally.
 At an advanced age of 39 and still paddling on a remarkable career spanning over 15 years, Johannes continues to cement her name in the marathon event and remains a force to be reckoned with in global long distance running.

 Just last 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, Qatar, before going on to deliver another scintillating performance to win the 2019 prestigious Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon held in Cape Town, South Africa.

 Johannes also won all six legs of the 2019 Spar Women’s 10km Challenge Grand Prix to become the most successful athlete in the history of the race. And not only did Johannes win all six races, but she did so in record times – becoming the first runner in the history of the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge Grand Prix to claim maximum points by finishing with a total of 180 points.  
 The veteran marathoner also scooped gold at last year’s World Military Games held in China and has on multiple occasions won the Namibia Annual Sports Awards Sports Star and Sportswoman of the Year accolades.

 The recent emergence of the country’s para-athletes brings much-needed hope. Although the country is yet to produce another able-bodied world beater on the athletics track, Namibia’s investment in athletes living with disability and the entire local Paralympics setup over the years has handsomely paid off, as the country continues to win medals at major events such as the Paralympic Games, African and world championships, to mention but a few. >>
Para-athletes impress
The likes of Johanna Benson, Ananias Shikongo, Johannes Nambala, Lahja Ishitile, Johanna Katjikuru, power-lifter Ruben Soroseb and swimmer Gideon Nasilowski and many others, all came through the ranks and managed to inspire the nation and conquer the world through breath-taking exploits on the international stage.

 Following Johanna Benson’s historic success at the 2012 London Paralympics - which paved the way for an avalanche of local para-athletes - the likes of Shikongo and Nambala have come of age and continue to set the bar even much higher for the country’s Paralympics youngsters.
 At last the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Shikongo became the country’s only second para-athlete to win a gold medal at the Paralympics Games when he scooped three medals - a gold medal in the men’s T11 200m race and two bronze in the T11 100m events. 

Also at the same games in Brazil, Nambala bagged two silver medals when he finished second on the men’s T13, 400m and 200m events.
 On to rugby, the Namibian senior rugby 15 have maintained their dominance on the continent and continue to be regular campaigners at the quadrennial Rugby World Cup, with their latest World Cup appearance coming at last year’s edition held in Japan.

 Although the country is yet to record a win at the World Cup, Namibia has managed to make six straight appearances at the last six editions of the world’s biggest rugby showpiece. 
The highlight of Namibia’s 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign was the inclusion of more youngsters in the squad, especially black youngsters, 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. Namibia has never made it past the pool stage of the Rugby World Cup since making her first appearance in 1999.

 Namibia, however, continues to lose lots of talented rugby players every year to South African and other international clubs due to limited or lack of opportunities here at home and until major sponsors come on board to level the playing field, the current trend might continue unimpeded.
 On the netball courts, the Desert Jewels, as the Namibian senior netball side is affectionately known, has bounced back after years in the wilderness. Last year, they surprised all and sundry when they defeated host nation Singapore 49-42 to win the 2019 edition of the coveted M1 Nations Cup – a historic first for the country.

 Not only did the Desert Jewels make history with their M1 Nations Cup success, but also the often underfinanced Namibian ladies signalled the country’s return to former glory 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 netball teams.  

 Not only did NN impress on the international scene, but the local netball governing body also continues to roll out vital development programmes through the Debmarine Namibia Senior Regional Netball Championship, which proved an important platform for rural and school netballers, who many a time lack access to competitive tournaments at national level. 

And speaking of development, New Era 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.
 Looking at other sport codes that were previously predominately white, one has to admit that at least tennis, golf and hockey have made significant transformational strides over the years, with more players of colour coming through the ranks to represent their country. 

Relative minor sporting disciplines such as squash, judo, gymnastics, cycling and fistball, among others, are also making rapid progress locally and regionally but are yet to fully embrace the concept of transformation on a broader scale.

 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.  
Sport in Namibia has over the years struggled to enjoy prominence on the national budget, with the sports ministry receiving a paltry N$286 million for the 2019/20 financial year, which was a N$2 million reduction from the N$288 million the ministry got in the previous financial year. ◆

Otniel Hembapu
2020-03-20 16:08:54 | 6 months ago

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