Punching above her weight

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Punching above her weight

As Namibia celebrates 33 years of independence tomorrow, 21 March, we take a look at the many achievements the country’s sporting fraternity has scored over the years, which continues to inspire the future. 

It will only be fair to start off with the people’s game. Despite the perennial infighting among its leaders, local football remains the toast of Namibian sport, especially ever since the country made her maiden appearance at the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Burkina Faso, and thereafter at the 2008 Afcon in Ghana as
well as the 2019 Afcon in Egypt. 

Namibia in 2018 turned a new leaf by qualifying to her first-ever African Nations Championship (CHAN) finals (for home-based players) held in Morocco, and again followed up with another qualification to the 2021 CHAN held in Cameroon.

But not only has the country’s football made promising inroads at continental level over the years, but at regional level, Namibia has also enjoyed its fair share of success. 

In 2015, the Brave Warriors made history when they clinched their first-ever Cosafa Cup, which success was replicated a year later by the U/17 side, which won the 2016 Cosafa Cup. Also in 2016, the Brave Warriors won the Plate final of the Cosafa Cup.

In 2021, the country’s U/20 side reached the final of the Cosafa Cup, but unfortunately lost to Mozambique. But by virtue of reaching the final, Namibia automatically qualified for that year’s U/20 Africa Cup of Nations held in Mauritania. 

Not only that, but Namibia also played her part in advancing the positive narrative of developing African football through shared growth and prosperity when it secured and successfully hosted the 2014 CAF African Women’s Championship in Windhoek at both the Independence and Sam Nujoma stadiums.

At home, there have been tremendous efforts to develop the game through various youth competitions such as the annual The Namibian Newspaper Cup, Skorpion Zinc U/17 Cup, the NFA Built It Youth Cup and more recently the MTC HopSol Youth League, to mention but a few. 

All these youth competitions, coupled with others, have over the past 33 years played a fundamental role in shaping the developmental agenda of Namibian football.

On the rugby front, Namibia ranks among the most successful rugby-playing nations on the continent, having qualified to the last seven Rugby World Cups, and also winning multiple Rugby Africa Cups over the last three decades. 

The Welwitschias, as Namibia’s senior rugby side is known, have won the Rugby Africa Gold Cup on no less than five occasions. Since making her debut at the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Wales, Namibia has never missed out on any World Cup – qualifying to the 2003 edition in Australia, 2007 in France, 2011 in New Zealand, 2015 in England, 2019 in Japan and now gearing up for the 2023 edition slated for France.

Namibia has also managed to maintain a top-30 world ranking over the years, and is a regular competitor in numerous South African provincial competitions such as the Vodacom Cup, the Supersport Rugby Challenge, the Mzansi Rugby Challenge and the Currie Cup, which all serve as important development platforms for Namibian players to gain much-needed exposure and probably get scouted by international clubs. 

The country’s junior rugby sides have likewise enjoyed relative success in Africa, while women’s rugby has taken its rightful place through the development agenda of the Namibia Rugby Union (NRU), as more resources and technical expertise are being shifted towards that area.

Namibian netball has made great strides on the continent and beyond over the past 33 years, with the national senior team, the Desert Jewels, finally making their mark on the global stage by winning the 2019 M1 Nations Cup in Singapore – a historic first for Namibia.

Not only did the Desert Jewels make history with that success, but the often-underfinanced code has continued to signal the country’s return to former glory days with consistent improved rankings on the continent and on the world stage.

Netball Namibia (NN), the local netball presiding body, has done wonders on the development side of the game through the Debmarine Netball Regional Championship, which brings together the best of the best from all 14 regions.

NN also secured a three-year sponsorship worth N$4.2 million from MTC to assist with the establishment of a premier netball league and the development of netball countrywide, which has been a great success story thus far.

Local boxing has consistently punched above its weight internationally over the last three decades, which has seen the likes of legendary pugilists Harry Simon, Paulus Moses, Paulus Ambunda and Julius Indongo all bringing home world titles and inspiring the next generation of Namibian boxers.

Promising young fighters such as Jeremiah Nakathila, Mikka Shonena, Sakaria Lukas, Harry Simon Jnr and many others have constantly been demonstrating that the future of local boxing is indeed bright, and that they are prepared to carry the baton further.

Meanwhile, credit should go to legendary promoter Nestor Tobias and his Academy, as well as others such as Kiriat Kamanya of Salute Boxing Academy, Joseph Benhard of Kilimanjaro Boxing Club, Kinda Nangolo of Kinda Promotions and the new kid on the block, Imms Moses of 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. 

Another code that has had runaway success is Namibia’s Paralympics. These athletes continue to be the pride and joy of the nation as they continuously stamp their authority on the international Paralympics arena.

Ever since Johanna Benson stole the headlines at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London when she demolished a field of strong competitors to win Namibia’s first- ever Paralympic gold in the women’s 200m race, local Para-athletes have continued to put Namibia on the world map with great pride.

At the 2016 Paralympics, Namibia managed to win seven medals, which included one gold, two silver and two
bronze, while the previous year at the 2015 Athletics World Championships staged in Doha, local Para-athletes collected seven medals, including two gold medals, three silver and two bronze. 

Meanwhile, at the 2017 World Para- Athletics Championships in London, local Para-athletes defied the odds as they went on to bag two gold and one bronze medal, to mention but some of the successes on that front. 

In athletics, the country also enjoyed great success, starting with legend Frank Fredericks, who made history as the first Namibian to win Olympic and World Championship medals. Running in the 100m and 200m events, he won four silver medals at the Olympic Games (two in 1992 and two in 1996), making him Namibia’s only able-bodied Olympic medallist at the time.

Fredericks also won gold medals at the World Championships, World Indoor Championships, All-Africa Games and Commonwealth Games as well as held several records for a long time. 

The legacy continued when the unstoppable Christine Mboma rewrote history by scooping a silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, becoming the first Namibian woman to achieve such a feat. She then went on to win bronze at the 2022 Commonwealth Games after she finished third in the women’s 200m behind Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah and Nigeria’s Favour Ofili.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games saw Namibia’s veteran marathoner Helalia Johannes winning gold in the women’s marathon to cement her status as one of the country’s and Africa’s all-time greatest long-distance runners. She also clinched the bronze at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022.

At the advanced age of 42 and still paddling on a remarkable career spanning over 18 years, the soft-spoken Johannes continues to cement her name in the marathon event, and remains a force to be reckoned with in world long-distance running.

Over the years, she has collected a glittering cabinet of medals, including countless victories at the World Athletics Championships, at the Military World Games, the All-Africa Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half-Marathon and the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge, to mention but a few.

On the developmental front, promising talents such as Sade de Sousa, Ndawana Haitembu, Nandi Vass, Lize Meyer, Michael Muyenga and Chris Kinda all continue to shine on the big stage, and the sky is the limit for them all.

On the cricket front, in 2019 Namibia won the World Cricket League Division 2 tournament to gain One Day International (ODI) status for the first time since her participation at the 2003 World Cup, which was a massive milestone for the country with a tiny pool of cricketers. 

Namibia was recognised by the International Cricket Council (ICC) with two awards for its various development programmes: the Development Initiative
of the Year award and Associate Member Men’s Performance of the Year.

Cricket Namibia (CN) has been working towards the vision to be an inclusive Namibian sport of choice, as 67 000 children across the country have been exposed to the game of cricket through the Ashburton Kwata Cricket programme, and many of those children have now become part of the cricket dream.

The ICC also announced last year that Namibia has been awarded the rights to co-host two World Cups – the ICC U/19 Men’s World Cup in 2026 and the ICC Men’s World Cup in 2027.

All in all, Namibian cricket has embarked on a transformative
journey that has seen CN introducing a raft of youth leagues, a women’s league and schools cricket initiatives – all aimed at further fostering the game.

Moving on to hockey, the country’s hockey fraternity has equally been well on the rise – both in the region and continent. Last year, the country’s senior hockey team defeated Zambia 2-1 in the women’s final of the 2022
Hockey African Cup to be crowned new champions in Ismailia, Egypt.

They automatically qualified for the Hockey World Cup, scheduled for Muscat, Oman in 2024.

Women’s hockey has generally seen great growth over the year, especially in the Bank Windhoek-sponsored leagues, which continue to serve as a great feeder system for the national teams.

In inline hockey, Namibia has taken giant leaps on the international front after the country won gold at last year’s World Junior Inline Hockey World Cup in Buenos Aires, Argentina after they outsmarted the USA 9-1 in the final.

The future of Namibian hockey looks bright, and with enough support and
sustained international participation, the country’s men’s and women’s teams will remain forces to be reckoned with for years to come.

Happy 33 years of independence and democracy to the motherland!