Contrasts could never be more intense or sharper between Tanzania and its neighbours in relation to the coming Olympic Games, and the regional atmosphere for the preparation of the Games.
With our neighbours, both the more immediate and the rather distant, there is a festive atmosphere at two levels, first in participating in the All African Athletics Championships in Togo, and then in evaluating their exploits in that tourney for what is likely for the London Olympics.
In neither of these events was Tanzania anywhere to be seen, as it is usually capable of meeting standards for participating in the All Africa Games, but hardly likely to think of fielding athletes to actually vie for honours in a championship.
It is clear that this was not always the case, in which case the problem arises as to how it all arrived here, and there are often few answers available.
In the not so distant past there used to be an explanation that there is no imaginative leadership, both in the Tanzania Olympic Committee and in the Tanzania Athletics Association, now known simply as Athletics Tanzania, so there was a change in that direction.
It means that we no longer have that excuse, and significantly, as the years went by, Tanzanian athletics capacity at international level has dipped even further, implying that the problem wasn’t leadership in the first place but rather the specific environment in which leaders seek to fulfill their mandates, efforts.
There was a time, like in the 2005 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, that we could still put up a show and rival with neighbouring countries, though in few distances literally by a stroke of luck, rather than the overall situation of preparations.
By the next Commonwealth Games there was little in the way of contrasts within the field contest or outside it, implying that the torch of competitiveness had been passed to others, and that is where we are at present, or sliding even further. We cannot of course think of competing in championship games, perhaps even if were an East African event, for we would be outclassed in all departments by our neighbours, as it happened in the Kilimanjaro Marathon lately.
That is why one has a feeling that Tanzania is taking a contingent to the Olympic Games more or less for strategic reasons, that is, the defence of its membership in the IOC.
This definitely entitles it to a critical minimum of support in which case this may also explain ability to field even the six member contingent it has lately announced It will send to the London Games, without which it is unlikely that the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports could have managed or otherwise considered ensuring that a tem is sent to London. Incidentally, defending our position in the IOC also enables the defence of the positions of officials in the local Olympic Committee and athletics associations, so it is essential that we go there.
We still haven’t solved why there has been such a drastic change, and we only make an effort to participate in Olympic Games so that we are not expelled from the movement and destroy the ethical basis of having such institutions in the country.
It cannot be said that leadership is the reason, for those in leadership at present are those who excelled in the field in the 1970s when they were in the prime of youth, and even in other areas it is such people who bring flair and success into sporting organizations.
In that case it means that Tanzania’s living conditions have been plummeting relative to other countries, for instance brain stunting of children starting school has now reached a shocking level of 42 per cent which isn’t true of our neighbours. In that case our youths happen to be much weaker and incapable of using opportunities when they arise, and the government correspondingly more stringent, to even think of making an effort, except perhaps in the case of Arusha region, where athletics is on the whole vibrant.
Michelsen has a lot on his plate
It is not a secret that where youth football is concerned, we still have some way to go.
Granted, although a few encouraging steps have been taken in recent years, such as the setting up of the Copa Coca Cola championship, glaring challenges still remain.
As has been highlighted in this column in the past, there are not enough academies around the country to nurture the precocious talent that undoubtedly exists at the grassroots level.
Earlier this week, the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) introduced the new national youth team coach, Jakob Michelsen to the media. Michelsen will be tasked with the weighty responsibility of developing talent at the youth level in the country.
The new Danish coach comes into the job at a time when the wananchi are fervently hoping for the fortunes of their national youth teams to be turned around, even though this hope has often been badly dashed in the past.
Michelsen will have to impress on the local clubs in the country the importance of youth football development as these sides have been strangely reluctant to embrace this idea, which is at the core of every successful football nation.
Another serious issue that merits the Danish coach’s attention, is the fact that local football stakeholders, have on the whole, failed to keep tabs on the progress of the promising starlets who took part in past editions of the Copa Coca-Cola Under-17 football competition.
Indeed, it is a crying shame that some of these youngsters have largely been forgotten. It also amounts to a gross and irresponsible waste of talent.
However, while Michelsen will certainly face challenges in the discharge of his duties, he will also discover a few critical advantages, which could heighten his chances of success.
The most important of these is the encouraging fact that the country is abundantly blessed with hordes of youngsters, who possess an intrinsic and inherent talent for football.
Unquestionably, this will aid him as he seeks to lay a sturdy foundation for youth football in the country. And we wish him the best of luck as he works to bring back the joie de vivre to football in the country.