New Era senior sport journalist Otniel Hembapu caught up with former Namibia Football Association (NFA) secretary general Barry Rukoro to talk about life post-NFA, his legacy, the current football politics and his love for farming; among a raft of other issues.
You were head of the NFA secretariat for almost 14 years, if I’m not mistaken; many have widely accredited you for the rapid development of Namibia’s women football. Why was the agenda of women football so close to your heart? Thank you for inviting me on this platform. It is common knowledge that in order to accelerate the development of football in any country, Namibia included, qualification to major international competitions is a necessity. Qualifying and participation at the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) and FIFA World Cup gives the growth of football a complete injection. That is why as a football association, however difficult it may be, you must always strive to achieve qualification to major international competitions. It is also common knowledge that qualifying for those male football competitions is a challenge. That is why female football, to us, became a strategic approach to achieve world recognition for our country and to give new impetus to the growth of football generally. Also, women football provided us with an untapped growth potential. I could not watch more than 60 percent of our population just being at the periphery of the main sport code – football. In order to grow the numbers and justifiably claim the status of being the number one code in the country, we need women involvement in the game. Women football became the number one female sport in the country and was about to compete with the male version in terms of numbers.
Another key aspect always linked to your legacy is your passion for the development of adequate football infrastructure. One cannot mention the NFA Girls Centre and the NFA technical field – to mention but a few of the projects – without mentioning the name Barry Rukoro. Are you satisfied with the work done by the NFA in that space over the years? Football infrastructure, including football pitches, are the classrooms on which the game is taught to young players. Without those, the quality of our football education will always remain low. Any football administrator who does not take the development of stadia as important is missing the point. Currently Namibia is operating at only about 20% of its capacity because we simply do not have the necessary facilities on which football education can take place. The northern half of the country has only about six proper football pitches to share amongst the greater half of our population. I have fought many battles to explain the need for more facilities in the north if we really are to tap the potential in that area.
Of all the milestones attributed to your tenure as then NFA secretary general, what has given you the most satisfaction and why? There were always claims that no youth football development was happening in our association. Experts, however, saw us as one of the associations that gave special attention to youth football. I draw my biggest satisfaction and pleasure from our humble efforts at the level of youth football, both boys and girls. My biggest joyful moments as a football man was waking up on a Saturday and seeing streams of young people with their togs hanging on their shoulders walking to the NFA Technical Centre to play. That is the moment I knew we were winning as a country, and not only football. That is when I knew we were winning the fight against alcohol and drug dealers, and that made me so proud of what we did at the level of youth football.
When parting ways with the NFA last year, you later indicated that the Normalisation Committee (NC) should have allowed you to have a dignified exit from your position because you were anyhow preparing to vacate office, as opposed to your forced removal aided by police on the instructions of the NC. What exactly did you mean by a dignified exit from Football House? Coming from the challenges I had to endure under the previous NFA president Frans Mbidi, I assumed that the incoming NC, with their standing in society, would approach the matter differently. What I meant was that as a man who had spent so much time at NFA and one who is quite aware of the ability of the new FIFA to force its preferred set-up on people, I was ready for anything. When the chairperson of NC Hilda Basson-Namundjebo left a message that she will come to see me that morning, I was ready to hand over the keys. That is why, when the police came, I did not carry any boxes containing my personal belongings. Those were already home. By sending the police and not coming themselves, they denied themselves the opportunity to understand the game and the association better, hence the complete failure of their assignment to normalise football.
There were those who said you had overstayed as head of the NFA secretariat, and there were those who also argued that your performance was perfectly intact and therefore the duration of your stay was a non-issue. What has been your take on both perceptions? Every man has a time to come and a time to go. My time to go was nearing, I could feel it in my bones. I have done more than my fair share of what was needed to be done. Football owed me nothing and I owed football nothing. However, as you know the last few years of my stay at NFA were fulfilling in terms of achievement at international level. Ricardo Mannetti was one of my most inspired recruitments. He was hungry and made me hungry, he was inspired and inspired me. Winning the Cosafa Cups both senior (2015) and junior (2016), qualifying for 2019 Afcon and 2018 Chan and for the first time reaching the Chan knockout stage was, in my view, the foothills of qualification to a FIFA World Cup. I wanted to stay because I felt that is something I can give to my country. We gave Namibia Burkina Faso ‘98, Ghana 2008, Cosafa and 2018 Chan. I wanted to go to the hilltop, which was to qualify Namibia for the FIFA World Cup. But unfortunately, others had different plans.
Namibian football is currently in shambles. Given your gold mine of football experience, if you were asked to reconcile the NFA and NPL, for the sake of our football’s progress, what is the one piece of advice you would give? Go back to the rules. There is a reason why rules are compiled and distributed before the kickoff of any competition. Human beings are fallible beings and have the ability to favour one above another. That is why once the rules have been compiled none has the right to change them. As leaders they must engage, even when it is difficult. Swallow your pride and egos and admit when you are wrong. That is my advice if we want to move the game out of this impasse.
Would you perhaps say the NPL/NFA matter was handled wrongly from the very onset? How should they have gone about resolving this impasse? Yes, without a doubt, and it was expected because the people who had to deal with it had no experience and had to rely on the advice of people who themselves were also compromised because they had an interest in the matter. Some of the main advisers were leaders of the affected clubs. The NC did what they were advised and the current leadership is captured by outside forces who are taking the actual decisions. The times have changed and football leaders are being led by people who all these years were known to be frustrated and disillusioned. Decisions are taken outside the mainstream football structures and those who must take decisions have turned into implementers. That is not right.
Of late, we have witnessed you excelling incredibly in the areas of cattle breeding and crop production. In fact, you are one of Namibia’s emerging top Bonsmara cattle breeders. How’s life been as a full-time farmer? I have always said that if you have worked in football and succeeded as I think I have done, there is little else you cannot succeed at. I am forever grateful for the work ethic I learned in football. I have always loved cattle. My family has always been cattle people and the transformation was always planned to be smooth. Bonsmara cattle are beautiful animals, they sooth the soul and remove stress. They helped me cope with the demands of football. We are doing a number of new things like producing our own food. A good 75% of what we eat here is on-farm produced. We are working on moving to the next level of selling farm produce. Moving from sustaining ourselves to helping the country cope with the pandemic.
You served under several NFA presidents, among them Imms Namaseb, Petrus Damaseb, John Muinjo and Frans Mbidi. Mention a lifelong lesson and a quality you learned from each one of them and how you have applied that in your personal and professional life? Very interesting question. Namaseb came about early on in my career. We were young and learned from our mistakes. One thing I am grateful to him for is that he gave me an opportunity to learn how not to run an organisation. It was a lesson well learned. Damaseb was my university. I have learned from him things I could not have learned at any institution of higher learning. He taught me to wake up early, to write properly and to negotiate with confidence and with a tick of arrogance. He worked me long and hard but I learned. It was not all pleasant but he, together with Ashford Mamelodi, were the two people I really learned from. Everything good about me comes from those two gentlemen. Muinjo brought discipline to my game. For him there is no two stories, discipline is the name of the game. He is a true football man. Fair play and development were the cornerstones of his leadership. That is why NFA put so much effort during his tenure. It’s a pity that with succession leaderships the impact of your work may be felt only after you have left. Mbidi was a mistake that should never have happened. The least said about him, the better.