Zambia Athletics Association’s failure to produce world champions

Sports & Games
Sports & Games

LAST week’s write-up on Zambia Athletics Association (ZAA)’s failure to raise world champions despite unlimited potential in the country triggered far more responses than I expected.
My mailbox was inundated with responses and my phone inbox jammed – literally – with messages. Some were very emotional while others, which I have chosen to publish, were moderate.
Judging by the responses, athletics enthusiasts have no faith in leadership of the ZAA executive and actually believe the future of the sport is bleak.
Former board member of the National Olympic Committee of Zambia and first chairman of the National Olympic Academy of Zambia Mwembe Kaona writes:
It is neither by accident nor coincidence that the ‘tiny’ Caribbean nation of Jamaica, more famous for its reggae music, has produced world class short distance runners such that at the 2009 Berlin World Athletics Championships, where the country hauled a bagful of 13 medals.
Jamaica is home to current 100m world holder Usain Bolt, whose country mate Yohane Blake, minted gold at the 2011 World Championships. Bolt was eliminated from the final, breaking “ridiculously early”.
Just what is Jamaica’s secret that the Elias Mpondela-led Zambia Athletics Association can take a leaf from and produce more athletes in the class of 1991 400m world hurdles champion Samuel Matete?
“Jamaica’s success in track-and-field athletics is not fortuitous. It is the result of a system of athletic instruction, management and administration that has been in place, tried and tested for almost a hundred years, and is now well established,” observed columnist Patrick Robinson.
ZAA in its current state is more renowned for its social event – the annual Inter Company Relay (ICR) – without a doubt a noble cause, which has scored well as a tool for social change than the development of track-and-field.
The ICR’s aim of raising funds for talent identification is yet to produce a harvest despite having featured on the national sports calendar for fifteen years!
According to research findings by attorney at law Delano Franklin, Jamaica’s national athletics governing body has for close to a century worked closely with the Inter Secondary Schools Sports Association in organising what culminates into annual national championships, bringing the best of the best to compete for national honours, catching them whilst still young.
ZAA could learn from their Caribbean counterparts by doing the same locally. By working with the Zambia Secondary Schools Sports Association and manage the grassroots through the area boards, where proper basic coaching and foundational guidance can be provided. Surely, corporate bodies that have pumped in resources in the ICR would gladly fund a focus-driven national athletics programme.
It would also add to the development drive if the area board structures were given a lease of life in organising leagues that ultimately feed a national event.
With infrastructure such as the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, the soon-to-be-opened National Heroes Stadium and Olympic Youth Development Centre, the yesteryear excuse that Zambia has no tartan track to train and expose athletes to international standards no longer holds.
It is said that before one takes up any sports discipline, they start as an athlete because they walk and run, which essentially athletics events are fundamental to say basketball, boxing, football, judo and volleyball to name a few. The role the athletics body plays is, therefore, cardinal to the success of any other sports activity.
Using Jamaica as a yardstick, do we have the athletic instruction systems in place? Are the necessary administration and management skills available? Your guess is as good as mine.
Jesse Moono, who is based in South Africa, writes:
Dear Mr Lungu,
That was an excellent observation and well-written article.
I firmly believe that Zambia has potential to show more in other sports given the opportunity. Example, Gerald Phiri currently running in the US and yet the British want to take claim. He is 100 percent Zambian. The Phiris left Zambia and went to South Africa, then UK from where the kids found themselves in the US.
I firmly believe if they had stayed, Gerald would not have represented the country at the past Olympic in London. Reason being simply, there are no facilities and eyes for that particular sport or event. We do have people seating in these positions but with short sight.
As you mentioned, Kalu and his administration have taken football to the next level in our country. That is why it is important to have the right people for the job.
It’s a farce that Parliament seats down to discuss the naming of a stadium and still gets it wrong! So, what do they do at other times? What are their matters of urgency, if not how to develop and increase athletics, swimming etc?
At the end of the day, it’s about having the right people in departments. Then you will get results.
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