Changing China

Giant on the move

African athletes finding medals hard to come by

August 14, 2008

Medal bitingOne by one, African athletes at the Beijing Olympics have fallen by the wayside, with most not going beyond preliminary rounds five days into the Games.

With the exception of Zimbabwe’s swimmer Kirsty Coventry, who has collected three silvers, Algeria’s Soraya Haddad and Egypt’s Hesham Mesbah, who won judo bronze meals, and Benjamin Boukpeti, who got bronze in men’s singles kayak slalom for Togo, there have been no Africans on the podium.

And while Boukpeti and Coventry are competing for African countries, they are not based on the continent.

Fortunes may turn in the second week with athletics. Kenya, for example, is targeting at least six golds and Ethiopia may bag two medals from Tirunesh Didaba and Kenenisa Bekele in the 10,000 metres.

South Africa and Nigeria have the biggest African teams for Beijing, with 142 and 89 athletes respectively, but may leave the summer games empty-handed.

Some participants blame inadequate preparation, poor technical support and a lack of finance for the lacklustre performance.

“You do not start preparing for the Olympics a few months before you come,” said Muatara Kaunda, boxing coach for Namibia. “You cannot hope to compete with the other countries that have been preparing for years. Finance is also a big challenge. If you do not pay well, do not expect too much from them.”

Nigerian-born Francis Obikwelu started running for Portugal in 2000, frustrated with the difficulties of earning a living as an athlete in Africa.

“There is a lot of talent in Africa but you need more than that to make it at the Olympics,” the 29-year-old who will compete in the 100 metres and 200 metres told reporters.

“You should not have to worry about whether you will get paid or not and worry about raising money for a ticket to go to competitions. That is difficult for some of us because we have families to take care of.”

Unlike their other counterparts, Olympic medallists from Africa are unlikely to pocket big payouts.

Uganda’s press attache Norman Katende told Reuters their medallists would get “some kind of reward”.

“We do not want to put them under pressure so we do not tell them what they will get if they win a medal but they will get something,” he said not disclosing the amount.

PHOTO: Hesham Mesbah of Egypt bites his medal in the men’s -90 kg judo bronze medal contest A at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon


Norman Katende can live in denial all he wants but the truth is that our athletes are not rewarded. And when they are it is in the form of “empty promises”. A very famous and very recent case was when our heroine Inzzi laid the law down in the long distance races and the excited politicians promised to build her a house. She had to literally beg them to fulfill their promise. I am not sure they did. But when she won some prize money the same corrupt scoundrels were so quick to insist that she pay 50% tax.
Kaunda is so right, sports like any other business requires well planned and adequate investment. You will be hard-pressed to come across that kind of discipline in Africa. Rwanda is perhaps the exception and that is only because the top man in the land takes a keen and direct interest in athletics. So the scoundrels can not steal as much under the spotlight.

Posted by Dennis Kasolo | Report as abusive

I disagree with the projected medal count, especially when you state that Nigeria may leave empty handed. Niaja will earn at the very least bronze in soccer.

Posted by Osiris.Anubis | Report as abusive

It’s always about the money. Kenya has lost numerous athletes to the US, Quatar, Bahrain where sports is taken more seriously. Until such time Africa looks at sports as an industry that can create thousands of jobs, improve living standards and the overall GDP of their countries, the continent will continue to perform poorly. And as an industry, we must invest in it. The infrastructure has to be in place, institutions have to be built,talent must be nurtured, skilled managers have to be employed to run affairs, governance and control measures to limit corruption and ensure athletes are properly taken care of,….The list is endless but like everything else in Africa, it boils down to leadership.

Posted by Njema wa Mutura | Report as abusive

Never mind olympic medals, we need feeding and i really dont know why Nigeria has so much people in China when their backyard is in dissaray. Our leaders need psychiatriatic help and they need to get their priorities right.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

countries in Africa most especially Kenya and Ethiopia award their athletes. but even in Uganda the offer has started. currently World Champion Dorcus Inzikuru has a house in Arua fully furnished as an award for her excellency. Akii Bua’s house was bought for him bu government. Yes, the awards might not be that big but they are worth to be noted. Gold medalist at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games were also given heads of cattle

Posted by Shadrack Ssemakula | Report as abusive

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