This week’s awe-inspiring exploits by Namibia’s sprint sensations Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi at the Tokyo Olympics marked a monumental turning point for us, as a country – not only from a sporting standpoint but around all facets of our statehood.
When 18-year-old Mboma recovered from a slow start to brush aside a strong field of seasoned campaigners on her way to win Namibia’s first Olympic medal in 25 years in a record-smashing time of 21.81 during Tuesday’s women’s 200m final, it was there and in that moment we were all forced to retreat into our chairs and reflect.
Ever since the legendary Frank Fredericks won Namibia’s last medals at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the country had since been to five other Olympics (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016) but failed on all those occasions to return home with a medal – never mind the colour.
But on Tuesday, 25 years later to be precise, Mboma finally squashed what seemed a generational curse when she scooped a silver medal, finishing just some nanoseconds behind Jamaica’s defending Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah, who won gold in 21.53.
Masilingi, 18 years of age, was equally in the thick of things in Tuesday’s final, setting a new personal best time of 22.28 as she finished sixth overall just behind Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou.
Mind you, these two sensational teens were competing in their first Olympics against seasoned performers and against swirling scrutiny emanating from their so-called elevated natural testosterone levels – but still, they rose to the occasion.
The above-mentioned achievements and demonstrated perseverance by both Mboma and Masilingi again serves a clarion reminder that Namibia is indeed blessed with exceptional talents, but our illusory political willpower, poor systems, processes, institutions and ineffectual administrators somehow remain our biggest stumbling block as a country.
When one looks at the Namibia Sports Commission (NSC) current strategic plan, it speaks of enhancing sports development and participation, improving sports management capacity, ensuring the compliance to sports legal and regulatory frameworks, promoting financial self-reliance in sport and enhancing national excellence.
Also, the NSC, in collaboration, with the sport ministry, further went on to introduce a glossy Sport Reward Policy (SRP), which recognises and rewards the country’s top performing athletes at continental and international levels.
But the objectives contained in the NSC’s strategic plan, when swotted together with the intentions outlined in the SRP, one will realise why our sporting fraternity is taking so long to reach maturity.
Both documents and policies are yet to have sufficient impact because there is a huge disconnect between the lustrous policies we draft as a country and the realities we are faced with on the ground.
For Namibia to produce two or three more carbon-copies of Mboma and Masilingi at the next Olympics, we urgently need to realign our policies and strategic plans with the realities on the ground; otherwise, we will wait for another 25 years to bring home an Olympic medal.
There are growing calls for more sponsorship towards sport, which is a welcome gesture, but we have always argued that pumping billions into broken institutions and fragmented systems is not the panacea to our many problems.
The solution lies in strengthening our institutions, systems, processes, equipping our administrators and realigning our policies as well as addressing the painful issue of inadequate sport facilities at grassroots and elite levels.
When closely inspected, one will realise that the current sport system we have in Namibia lacks all the utensils needed to ‘discover, develop and nurture’ top-class athletes. All that our current system does is to ‘maintain and encourage’ the little talents we discover along the way every ten years or so – which is clear affirmation that we need to change the way to do things.
Speaking of political willpower, it is time for our lawmakers to stop preaching about how serious they are with sports development and rather start practically demonstrating their seriousness by walking the talk.
I also say it is high time for Namibia to seriously turn her attention to that they now term ‘sport diplomacy’ – which is a newfound cousin of political diplomacy. Other countries, such as Australia, England and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have adopted sport diplomacy as an integral part of their long-term strategy within their international relations and cooperation frameworks.
The time is now for Namibia to go that route too, and make sport diplomacy part of its milieu of international relations. If perfectly pursued, Namibia can use sports diplomacy to forge closer collaboration between the sport fraternity, industries and government to leverage the nation’s sporting excellence in ways that can enhance Namibia’s influence, reputation and national interests at global levels.