By Lamin Cham
Just after making headlines around the world for the superb exploits of our national football team at their maiden Africa Cup of Nations, the image of Gambian sports suddenly got tainted and started attracting headlines suggesting we are not after all so blessed. First, the bulk of the athletics team to the Commonwealth games in the UK got stranded in America just after the world championship games, waiting for visas that eventually never came or were by- passed by special arrangements after an international media outcry. Then there is the issue of per diem palaver when it was revealed that someone not working for government, the wife of the minister, was paid per diem.
Before all these, mind you, the Gambia was once globally banned from football for alleged age cheating even after enough warnings that we might have selected over aged players for the Under-20 team in 2014. Until recently the basketball league was discontinued for the good part of seven years. At the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth games nearly the whole wrestling team absconded, some even before the games were over. There are also issues about trust with allegations and counter allegations being traded among stakeholders of various sports. Even the rhetoric in the current heated GFF election campaign is not helping the image of the game or sports in The Gambia.
While one may argue that some, if not all these issues may not have something to do with government, the reality is that there is an acute absence of sound, seasoned and professional sports technocrats at the head of our sports from the level of government to sports institutions. To start with, the Ministry of sports should be staffed with experienced people of sporting background who are grounded in the dynamics of modern-day sports administration.
Only such capable and seasoned technocrats can effectively advise direct and regulate the administration of sports in the country. Most of these lapses were caused by error of judgment, lack of early and adequate preparation and perhaps more importantly, lack of essential knowledge of sports at the level of the government ministry leaders directing it. Everywhere in the world, governments appoint seasoned sports men and women to direct government policy on sports administration and development in any given country. I had the opportunity to travel to many international forums and covered many others hosted in the Gambia and I often marveled at the rich sporting CV of international delegates compared to their Gambian counter parts. At one forum in 1997, hosted by the then GNOSC, almost all international delegates were grey- haired former international footballers, basketball players, cricketers or athletes who have combined their sports training with other professional studies. Their age, experience, history and knowledge in sports manifested clearly in their deliberations in the seminars.
The good example of the quality of sports technocrats is the composition and success of the then GNOSC of the past.
The body was so efficient, innovative and dynamic that it can be safely said that the GNOC was virtually running all Gambian sports directly or in directly. It provided coaches, technical assistance, finance and capacity building to all sporting disciplines in the Gambia.
It was of course led by people of sound knowledge both in sports and other fields. The Abou Dandeh Njie, George Gomez, Abdoulie Baks Touray and Fred Evans to name a few who recruited like-minded people to join them in their mandate.
Unfortunately, at government level successive governments continue to take sports as just play-allocating a pittance to sports from the budget and appointing just anybody to fill positions there. The drawback is we will take ages to catch up or match our neighbours in terms of real sporting achievement.
In conclusion, while government through the ministry of sports should be commended for supporting Gambian sports in their international assignments, I am inclined to ask why is it mandatory that each time a sporting delegation is travelling (with government financial support) an official or officials from the ministry of sport or its line institutions must travel with it and what difference do they make there? Is government funding of travelling sport teams conditional on taking along MoYS officials on the trip? And how and what criteria are used in determining who travels because there are record of some officials who travelled to three international sporting events this year alone.
The current situation with the per diem saga is most unfortunate and am deeply sorry that the minister, who has himself vowed to protect every dalasi government earmarked for sports, had to endure this sad experience from an apparent error of judgment. He should be forgiven and move on. But the fundamental lesson is that unless we give sports to sportsmen and women, example, basketball to basketballers, football to footballers, cricket to cricketers and swimming to swimmers, we shall all drown in the lake.