By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
The Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games might be about six years away but in terms of planning and programme implementation, it is almost like six days away.
Those who will win medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are finalising their preparations. A strategy is important in developing athletes for major games. According to the Art of War:
“When your strategy is deep and far-reaching, then what you gain by your calculations is much, so you and win before you even fight. When your strategic thinking is shallow and nearsighted, then what you gain by your calculations is little, so you lose before you do battle.”
For visionary sport leaders, the serious count-down to Paris 2024 has already started. They now have an idea as to which athletes and teams will represent their countries.
The Olympic Games would also be even more exciting for African countries if governments also invested meaningful resources into preparations for the games. Even more important is the issue of establishing vibrant sports systems underpinned by coherent sport development policies and programmes.
Success in international sport is a by-product of a strong sports culture or system. In other words, success at major games such as the Olympic and Commonwealth Games is the proverbial “cherry on the cake”.
For excellence to be achieved, there is a need for physical education and sport to be incorporated into the school curriculum from primary to tertiary education levels. However, this is not the case with most African countries, including the Southern African region.
Most sport and political leaders only want to associate themselves with winners or successful sports stars. If an athlete or team wins a gold medal for their country, they are most likely to be met and welcomed at the airport by the head of state or minister of sport.
However, even if they perform very well, improve their personal best or surpass their previous team achievements and records, but still lose and not win medals, they will be lucky to see even the president or secretary general of their own sports association at the airport.
Most sport and political leaders want to reap where they have not sown. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games inch closer, there will be the usual accompanying euphoria and crisis of expectations about the performance of Southern African teams.
However, these “great expectations” have not been matched with focused and well-managed investments in sport development.
For those that have not prepared seriously, it is now already too late to reap anything from Tokyo 2020.
Even before the start of the games, some Southern African countries need to go back to the “drawing board” and look to the future.
This then entails planning for adequate administration and technical capacity to manage and run activities, promoting sports cultures that will attract and retain quality volunteers and staff.
Their future efforts must be premised on strategic planning underpinned by a national sports model, for example, the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) framework, to guide plans and programmes as well as securing funding for sport by the government and corporate sponsors.
Estimates are that on average it takes approximately US$1.5 million to develop a world-class sportsperson who can compete with the best in the world to win at least a medal at the world championships or Olympic Games.
The athlete needs good preparatory competitions, nutrition, psychological support, training facilities, medical services, expert physical training as well as strength and conditioning. This aspect of preparation should be undertaken by an integrated support team.
The integrated support team has to identify general health, physical or performance-related deficiencies and provide the necessary mitigation.
The absence of some of the aforementioned areas of expertise can seriously compromise even the most talented athletes and teams.
There is, therefore, a dire need for governments and even corporate sponsors to invest meaningfully in the preparation of athletes and teams for major games.
There are currently great expectations of Southern African Olympic teams to bring medals home.
This is normal but in most cases, sports and political leaders do not bother to establish whether the teams are being adequately prepared or not.
It will be interesting to learn about projections for the medals from Southern Africa countries and compare that with the current investments being undertaken in the development of the elite sport.
As much as all Southern Africans will be rooting for their various athletes and teams and those of their neighbouring countries, the fear of failure should not cause people to shy away from investing seriously in sport development programmes.
As Dale Carnegie aptly stated, “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success”. Winning is nice but Southern Africa should prepare to learn from its failures in Tokyo 2020.