Africa’s Former Sports Greats Taking Over Federations In Their Countries

By Kevin Mwanza Published: November 7, 2016, 5:22 am
Haile Gebrselassie (photo: theburtonwire.com)

Geremi Njitap, one of Cameroon’s most successful footballers, was last week elected the head of National Union of Cameroon Footballers (SYNAFOC), a body entrusted with the welfare of footballers in one of Africa’s most successful football nations.

His election on Thursday, marked yet another step in the former footballer’s sporting life, after a glittering career at Spanish giants, Real Madrid, former English champions Chelsea and other clubs across Europe.

In Ethiopia, Haile Gebrselassie, one of the world’s athletics legends in long distance and marathon racing, was on sunday elected the president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) in Addis Ababa, CBC reported.

The two join Zambian football legend, Kalusha Bwalya, president of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) in a rising wave of Africa’s past sporting greats to head sports federations, in a continent where mismanagement, corruption and other problems best describe leadership.

At the Olympic Games held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Athletics Federation of Nigeria asked the athletes to pay for their tickets to the South American nation, Quartz Africa reported.

A social media campaign forced the federation to reverse the decision, saving athletes from yet another shame, years after the body abandoned Francis Obikwelu, one of the nation’s greatest athletes who suffered a career-threatening injury at the Olympic Games in Sydney Australia in 2000.

A frustrated Obikwelu defected to Portugal and won the European nation its first ever sprinting silver four years later at the Athens Olympics.

The national football team also landed in Rio, hours before its opening match after haphazard travel arrangements left it stranded in the US.

Most of Africa’s sporting federations’ officials have used the positions for personal gains at the expense of the sports-persons.

The continent’s past sporting greats, mostly victims of the gross mismanagement, are now waking up to the realization that they are best placed to lead current sports fraternity and ensure they benefit from their talents.

Kenya, alongside Ethiopia and Nigeria has also lost several talents to other nations, lured by better facilities and treatment for their exploits on the track and field, Kenya Today reported.

The most notable is Ruth Jebet of Bahrain, the reigning Olympic 3,000 metres steeplechase champion and world record holder.

Njitap’s election to head the footballers’ welfare association is timely in a continent where athletes have borne the brunt of nepotism and even reprisals from the present governments.

Feyisa Lilesa, who won Ethiopia silver medal in the men marathon in Rio, sought asylum in the U.S., fearing for his security after he openly supported his Oromo tribe that is protesting against political and economic marginalization, Sports Illustrated reported.

Lilesa’s hard-earned medal could not spare him government’s reprisal, yet the national athletics body never offered him support.

Last year, racism allegations hit the selection of South Africa’s ruby team, Springboks to the World Cup in England.

Critics said that white players where favored over blacks, and selection was not based on merit, The Globe and Mail reported.

Racism has also dogged several sports disciplines in the nation, once torn-apart along racial lines. Former sportsmen and women can help break the racial lines.

Njitap’s and Gebrselassie’s election perhaps offers the best solution to the ills that have afflicted sports in Africa and used by several personalities to scale their way up political leadership.

In Kenya, football which is arguably the most-mismanaged sport in the East African nation, has over the year provided the ladder for current top politicians who have left it shambles.

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