The United Nations Report on the International Year of Sport and Physical Education 2005 highlighted the benefits that sport can bring in building national identity, especially at the level of elite sport.
Sport can provide a positive image of the nation to the international community. Studies on specific cases have shown that sport, especially football, can positively contribute to strengthening national pride and forming a cohesive national identity.
President Hage Geingob’s mantra of no one should feel left out of the proverbial ‘Namibian House’ is itself aimed at achieving the same end – forming a cohesive national identity.
Our domestic football league, the Namibia Premier League (NPL), which features footballers and supporters from across the entire spectrum of our racial and tribal demographics, is on the verge of collapse.
This is after MTC, the main sponsor for years, withdrew its support following the league’s failure to secure an additional N$9 million as a top-up to the mobile company’s N$15 million financial injection.
Government remains the custodian of football in the country and institutions like NPL and the Namibia Football Association are fully owned by it.
Currently, more than 400 footballers and officials involved in the game face job losses because as a nation we failed to cough up a mere N$9 million to rescue the sinking ship of Namibian league football.
Namibia, under the current economic squeeze, cannot afford to lose more jobs. Our main preoccupation must be to jealously guard existing jobs and create new ones.
Government cannot continue to look at sport as a mere pastime, but as an industry that could provide jobs, keep young people off the streets and deepen our unity as a nation.
Football teams are made up of players and staff from different political, ethnical and religious backgrounds who, by the common aspirations of their collective as a team, see each other as one.
When Alassane Ouattara’s forces seized control of most of Ivory Coast in 2010 and ousted then president Laurent Gbagbo, a civil war erupted in that country. It was the country’s most prolific footballer, Didier Drogba, who, using his power and influence, called upon all Ivorians to quit the fight.
Drogba’s call, coupled with Ivory Coast’s good performance at the 2012 African Cup of Nations (they lost the final to Zambia), helped unite all Ivorians who eventually agreed not to fight each other any longer.
There are thousands of beautiful stories chronicling how sport has overcome conflicts and how it produced millionaires like Drogba, who went on to build hospitals and schools for their communities back home.
It therefore cannot be correct that the NPL situation has been left to somewhat sort itself out and for footballers and everyone involved in the game to fend for themselves in these trying times.
We have noted sentiments that the private sector must chip in with sponsorships. Record after-tax profits announced by local commercial banks (N$905 million for Bank Windhoek and more than N$1 billion for FNB) recently even sparked questions as to what the corporate world is doing to help in a situation like this.
The fact of the matter is that sponsorship is voluntary, especially in a free market like Namibia. We can knock on the doors of Corporate Namibia but cannot compel them to fork out money.
We therefore call on government, through the ministry of youth and sport (and if necessary, Cabinet) to seriously look at the league situation and provide urgent solutions. We can’t move two steps forward and three steps back.
That’s not how nations evolve for the better.