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Taking a look at the Olympic table it is easy to notice that the two super powers are leading the medal table, China and the USA. Is it simply because of their sheer size and large population or does it take more. Africa as a continent has very little representation but the South Africans doing us proud. South Africa is lurking around the top ten in the medal table far clear of the rest of Africa. Zimbabwe was waiting for Kirsty Coventry to win a medal, but she hasn’t been able to deliver anything so far.

The tale of each Olympian is the same, none were born with a gold medals round their necks. They may have had the raw talent, but it took years of hard work perseverance, self sacrifice and determination to get to the Olympics and eventually to win a medal. It takes the vision of both parent and child to set their mind on the Olympics and to begin to prepare for them, years in advance. Winning a swimming medal start in infancy, in the baby pool with a float around the waist. While most African children are afraid of the water, their white counterparts are trained in the water months after their birth. While some parents are trying to keep their babies heads above water in the bath, others are already learning to love water. By the time that children to go to school, they have already learnt basic water skills that will take others the rest of school to master, while others never get past their fear of water. Some things are best learnt when young. Trying to overcome the fear of water at ten is much harder than throwing a little baby in a pool. As they grow up they love the water and feel safe in the water and are already a million miles away from those kept away from the water.

Resources may come into play, because not everyone has access to a swimming pool or tennis court or the like, but where there is a will there is way. If a parent wants something for their children, they find a way. Most parents will find a way to pay for tuition through school, because they have resolved to get their children through school. It takes an extra determination to go for a sport passion with such tenacity. I am sure that not all Olympic winners come from well to do families. Some have to take buses to go for training. I can imagine the single mother whose daughter is an excellent ballerina, she saves away every penny so she can pay for dance lessons and costumes and all that comes with dancing. It is the same with sport or anything else, when a parent wants something for their child; they usually find a way to give it to them. Michael Jacksons father made it his life’s mission to make his children superstars, Mr Williams set out to groom a tennis pro’s and so came Venus and Serena Williams. In Zimbabwe, the Black family committed themselves to make tennis champions and it paid out for them. Whatever the and sets his mind on, he can achieve. Where there is a will there is a way. It can be done, so if we want to see more sporting hero’s we need a new breed of soccer moms who will go the extra mile to get their children to and from practice while balancing out their school work.

It helps to come from a nation that supports and builds sport and arts. Zimbabwe has never really been big on sport and has supported only a few sports such as cricket and soccer. To hone skills in a particular sport requires financial commitment and a focus to grow talent from an early age. Some sports require more financial backing to build the required courts and pools, but some do not require so much commitment. Soccer for example can be learnt in the dust with a plastic ball as many African players have proven. The Kenyan runners train up in the mountains at altitude with little financial input.

Some parents may feel that sport will distract their children from achieving academic greatness. Quite the contrary. Under the right circumstances students can excel at both academia and also at sport. Some of the greatest academics were also great sportsmen. As the saying goes, all work and no play make jack a dull. Students who follow both a sporting and academic life tend to be more disciplined than those who do just one of the two. They learn from an early age how to manage their time and give their all at whatever they put their hands to. Sport also helps relief stress and tension and gets more oxygen to brain, making it easier to concentrate in class and grasp concepts. There is no reason why a student cannot follow both academia and sport, because the two work very well together. Many swimmers spend hours in the morning in the pool before and after school and still manage to balance their time to get their school work done on time. It is not an excuse to say that sport will mess up an academic career, because many have managed to follow both paths. Sport has a sell by date and one cannot opt to study first and then go back to sport, because the prime years when a student is in college and university are also the years that the student is ripe to compete.

Excelling at sport gives financial freedom that will give more options in adult life. All things always sort themselves out in the fullness of time. Many doors open after a career on sport. South African medalists have all testified about how their sacrifice has paid off. They have put their lives on hold to pursue an Olympic dream. They have reaped financial rewards as they go back home to receive R400 000 each. This is not a sorry amount, because few people ever see a bank balance like that in their lifetime. With that kind of money, they can invest in a home, and education or anything else they please. Kirsty Coventry was given a golden handshake by the President Robert Mugabe. It is a pity she didn’t make it this year, but there is fresh talent that is being released by the Americans.

America is second on the medals table because they commit a lot of resources into their sport. Colleges recruit sporting greats and provide scholarships to those who will boost their teams. Not many countries will give you a scholarship because you are good at a particular sport. Those who obtain these scholarships are able to kill two birds with one stone, studying for a degree or course while training under some of the best coaches and facilities. At national level, certain strategic decisions have to be made that will encourage children to take on sport. The rest of Africa can learn from South Africa which has public schools that provide a wide variety of sporting activities.

Ndlovu, the only black on the South African rowing team that won a gold medal told of how he had make sacrifices in order to get to the gold medal. He left work in 2009 and also gave up his studies temporarily in order to make time for practice. All four of them did nothing more than eat, sleep and row for almost four years and their sacrifice paid out dividends in the end. Ndlovu went to a government school where he was a member of a rowing team, showing that, it is not just white boys at private schools who can excel in such sports.

Last night a fifteen year old become the youngest person to win a medal. She didn’t have a fancy coach and fancy pool, she just trained with a high school coach who had coached her from a young age, in the high school pool with the rest of the high school team.  No brilliant formula, no medal winning coach, just talent, and good training and putting the hours in. She may have another fifteen or so more years to compete and we shall wait to see how far she goes.

Sport has a great voice that shouts louder than any marketing campaign. South Africa has been milking the opportunity to sell their nation as they have picked up each medal. One cannot imagine that people do not know about South Africa after they have won four medals. After hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2010, almost every young child knows that there a country called South Africa. The South Africa rugby team keeps the South African name in the airways and on our screens. It is very difficult for the world to ignore South Africa because their sporting ambassadors carry their nation on their sleeves and perform to their best for the love of their nation. In 2004 when Kirsty Coventry won her first gold at the Olympics, the commentator was in shock, his remarks were, “Kirsty Coventry from Zimbabwe has won the gold medal. Can you believe it? ZIMBABWE IN THE SWIMMING POOL!!!” He was shocked that little Zimbabwe would win against the giants. This was the Zimbabwean name on the airwaves, on our screens and in the media. With twitter these days, any little hype about your country is priceless in terms of advertising the nation. Investing in sport is not a waste of time and money; it could certainly bring our country back into the limelight and bring tourists and investors our way. I’d

Categories: Development, International
  1. August 8, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    The problem is that it is not just sport, it is everything else. The British public school system produces excellence but is socially divisive. The private sector education market operates in an entirely different way to any pseudo-market which we have tried to introduce in the state sector over the past few decades. No amount of state spending will ever close this gap which is based on money & social selection. As for grammar schools, their narrow curriculum & early selection at 11 were extremely wasteful. Nostalgia for the grammar schools, like nostalgia for the 1950’s, is based on false memory. We never had a Golden Age. Since 1970 I have taught in comprehensives which were infinitely better than the grammar I attended if only because teaching the less able develops better teachers. As far as sport is concerned, we have to decide what our priorities for state spending should be: competitive sports for a minority to win medals or combatting the rising obesity epidemic among the many.

    • August 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm

      That is true. Our priorities direct our spending. The education system in Zimbabwe is quite peculiar to Zimbabwe and is focused mainly on academic excellence, and yet there are children with varied talents and giftings.

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    August 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm

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  3. August 21, 2012 at 9:42 pm

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