Curious, isn’t it? That a festival of strength, speed, and endurance should have such a dearth of African representation at the front end.
So, this week, if like me, you have been peppering your workday with frantic browser refreshes to see how Africans are faring in these Olympics, you’ll have noticed a couple of things.
Firstly, we Africans are not as allergic to water as stereotypes would have you believe. Look at Van Den Burgh and Le Clos in the pool for South Africa. Or Sizwe Ndlovu in the rowing (again for SA). Ndlovu’s gold medal in yesterday’s race makes him the first black guy ever to win a rowing gold. Kind of significant.
But it is also totally politically incorrect to acknowledge, since, you know, ships and water harbor such bad memories for us. Apparently.
What the first week of the Olympics has solidified in my African mind is that, apart from tiny morsels of (South) African success while the water sports play out, the real meat of the Olympic matter for Africa, the athletics, starts today. A full nine days into the competition.
Curious, isn’t it? That a festival of strength, speed, and endurance should have such a dearth of African representation at the front end. Correction: there are loads of Africans doing stuff in the first week but, if we’re honest, they are mostly making up the numbers or starring in the wrong end of headlines with words like “crushed”, “dismissed” and “humiliated” (I’m looking at you, Angolan women’s basketball team).
So, why are we resigned to watching our screens in delusional hope, rather than rational expectation during week one when there are 36 sports to choose from? Take South Africa out of the equation, and the continent can realistically only expect medals in Athletics (because we’re good) and Football (because the good teams don’t bother). That is a grand total of two sports. And that’s not saying much.
Now, physiologically and fiscally, we are certainly dancing to a different beat, compared to our Western counterparts. And perhaps African governments are not as ferociously ambitious when it comes to topping the medal table, but that doesn’t explain our meager representation across so many of this Olympics’ thirty-six sports.
It’s tempting to fall back on the types of jokes that only us black folk can make to each other but if a nation like North Korea, with a moderate population of 24.5 million people and 0.0 freedom (so the internet tells me, I’ve never been) can lie 5th on the medal table after the first seven days of competition, then Africans must not be specializing in the right events.
You cannot convince me that the average North Korean guy can outspeed, outjump or, outlift his African counterpart. Physiologically, that seems highly improbable. So where and what is the difference? Are they breeding some sort of super-species? Or is the answer way less sinister than that?
#TeamDPRK as I’m sure they would call themselves if only they could access social media, have won gold in judo, weightlifting, and table tennis. Boring. And smart. Success is sweet, whatever the format.
So here are three suggestions for how the whole African continent, not just the bit at the bottom, can have a fervently patriotic interest, and realistic chance of challenging for prizes, from Day 1:
Go for sports that kids today would rather die than take up. So, “no” to trampoline; thumbs up to “modern pentathlon”.
Don’t insist on raising your own children. There’s a perfectly adequate government training camp somewhere to do that for you. And you’ll get to top the medal table.
Focus on a sport where winning Olympic gold means virtually nothing at the top level of the game. Let’s breed a continent of (even better) footballers.
Failing that, I guess the rest of us can get used to casting envious glances down South Africa’s way and crossing our fingers in the hope that, one sweet day, the universe of sociological factors like geography, access to world class coaching, superstar role models, and affordability will magically align. And then filter their way across the whole continent in time for Rio 2016.
As for Africa ever hosting the Olympic Games itself, a girl can dream, right?
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.