So, Namibia turns 27 tomorrow, March 21, an age that is normally associated with maturity, wisdom, responsibility, and above all, the ultimate measurement of one’s past experiences.
After a solid 27 years of democracy, peace and political stability – New Era Sport takes a thorough look at how far Namibian sport has come, with special focus on the various shortcomings and achievements of the country’s diverse sporting disciplines.
Ups and Downs
In general, especially in Namibia, sport has over the years experienced its fair share of ups and downs, because of hopelessly underfunded development projects while attaining various goals, as an aspiring sporting nation, has also been hampered by boardroom politics. For starters, the country’s most adored recreational activity, the beautiful game of football has taken a nosedive following the shock withdrawal of the country’s flagship league, the Namibia Premier League (NPL)’s principal sponsor MTC. The decision by MTC to part ways with the NPL brought the game of football to a virtual standstill and has subsequently contributed to the ever-skyrocketing unemployment of hundreds of young Namibians, with a huge chunk of young footballers left to fend for themselves in the unfriendly streets of various cities towns countrywide.
The absence of league activities is likely to have an adverse effect on the overall progress of domestic football and could ultimately have dire consequences when it comes to the country’s continental and international participation. Disturbingly, government seems to be grossly reluctant to intervene in the current quagmire in which Namibian football finds itself unwittingly entangled. As it stands, it would only be through government’s intervention that many a Namibian sporting discipline will reclaim its rightful place amongst the continent’s best sporting nations.
The august house needs to introduce hard rules obliging companies and other local business entities to channel a portion of their massive profits towards the growth of sports. This can only be achieved and successfully realised through legislation.
Namibia has tumbled from a modest 67th best football-playing nation in the world some 20 years ago to an alarming 99th place on the latest FIFA World rankings.
Albeit the many struggles faced by the country’s sporting fraternity, Namibia still has a beautiful story to tell to Africa and the world at large. At 27 years, and with limited resources and expertise at their disposal, Namibia’s senior football team, the Brave Warriors, have managed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) on two occasions (Burkina Faso 1998) and (Ghana 2008) while at regional level, the Brave Warriors rewrote the history books when they won the COSAFA Cup in 2015 while Namibia’s U/17 team also replicated the same feat when they claimed the 2016 edition of the COSAFA U/17 Cup in Mauritius.
In boxing, Namibia has surprised both friend and foe by unearthing a significant number of high-flying professional boxers 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 august events ranging from the multi-sports Commonwealth Games, World Championships and Olympic Games. Namibia also boasts a sizeable number of continental titleholders and boxing is without an atom of doubt the most successful sporting discipline across the country.
On the athletics track, Namibia 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 the track and field events.
However, with the recent emergence of para-athletes, Namibia is again becoming a force to reckon with at global level.
Although the country is yet to produce another able-bodied world beater on the athletics track, Namibia’s investment in athletes with disability and the entire local Paralympics setup over the years has paid off as the country is finally winning medals at events such as the Paralympic Games, African and World Championships, to mention but three. The likes of Johanna Benson, Ananias Shikongo, Johannes Nambala, Lahja Ishitile, Johanna Katjikuru, power-lifter Ruben Soroseb and swimmer Gideon Nasilowski as well as many others, all came through the ranks and managed to inspire the nation and conquer the world at the same time – through their breath-taking exploits on the tracks at various international events.
Following Johanna Benson’s historic success at the 2012 London Olympics – which paved the way for an avalanche of local para-athletes – the likes of Ananias Shikongo and Johannes Nambala have come through and have set the bar even harder for the country’s Paralympics youngsters. At last year’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Shikongo became the country’s only second para-athlete to win a gold medal at the Paralympic 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.
While the Namibian rugby 15 have been regular campaigners at the quadrennial International Rugby Board (IRB) World Cup, the team has always been labelled the whipping boys of the global rugby showpiece competing against professionals who are exposed to high performance training methods.
Namibia is losing lots of talented rugby players every year to other franchises and until major sponsors come on board to level the playing field, the current trend might continue unimpeded. In terms of setup, as has been the case over the years, domestic rugby will always remain a breeding ground for the more affluent franchises until the oval ball game turns professional on home soil.
At club level, the power has gradually shifted, with teams from the previously disadvantaged communities now dominating league proceedings despite insufficient resources and often discriminating laws systematically defined to put athletes of colour at a disadvantage at the expense of their more and still privileged white counterparts.
Cricket has been applauded on several occasions for its excellent development programmes notwithstanding the naked reality that the composition of national teams still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of demographic representation, with cricketers of colour constantly unable to cement starting berths in the elite squad.
At least, tennis has been making significant strides regionally, continentally and internationally and has seen lots of athletes of colour coming through the ranks.
Relative minor sporting disciplines such as karate, judo, gymnastics, cycling and fistball amongst others are also making rapid progress locally and regionally but are yet to fully embrace the concept of transformation. Sadly, sports authorities have been found wanting in the area of integrating traditional sports such as Owela (traditional chess) Ring board (traditional darts) Onghandeka (traditional kick-boxing) and a horde of other recreational rural pastimes that urgently need to be turned into urbanised sporting activities.
Sport in Namibia has, over the years, struggled to claim a top spot on the list of priorities on the national budget, with the sport ministry receiving a miserly budget allocation. Just enough to maintain the operations of the ministry yet nowhere enough to implement the various planned programmes and projects that will empower the youth through sports in the long run.
For the upcoming 2017/18 financial year, the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Services’ budget was cut by more than N$100 million after it received a mere N$385 million for the new financial year, as opposed to the N$491 million it received in the last financial year. The said allocation is according to Minister of Finance Calle Schlettwein’s N$62.5 billion national budget for the 2017/18 financial year that was tabled in the National Assembly recently.
A N$100-million slash from the budget of a ministry that has so many activities to carry out is quite worrisome – especially considering that the allocation caters for activities and planned programmes of its three equally demanding directorates; – being the sport, youth and the national services directorates.
The three directorates have equally urgent needs that uniformly demand and constantly jostle for the ministry’s limited resources.
We are talking about a N$100 million cut from the ministry’s budget at a time when the country’s premier football league is dormant due to lack of funds, at a time when our various sport codes are forced to withdraw from important continental and international competitions due to insufficient funds or lack of financial support from government.
All these developments are a clear indication that sport is not yet a priority to the Namibian government but it is just a mere responsibility, which it has no choice but to sustain for operations and employment purposes.