AS the first woman to serve as president for Athletics Namibia (AN), succeeding the country’s former track and field athlete Frank Fredericks, Alna Similo is determined to steer athletics to greater heights. But this comes easy for her after occupying various key positions at AN including that of sport commissioner. In a recent interview with Confidente, Similo who doubles as a professional teacher, talks about challenges and opportunities facing athletics, her plans to address issues holistically as well as spending quality time with her loved ones as a way to unwind.
Give us a snapshot of who you are?
I am Alna Clara Magrieth Similo, (née Gertze). I am a university graduate with a Bachelors Degree with majors in Education Management from the University of Tshwane in South Africa. I have been a full-time teacher by profession for the past 28 years and I am currently a Head of Department responsible for Mathematics & Science at one of the top primary public schools in the country, namely Pionierspark Primary school. Apart from being a self-starter and a highly goal and result driven professional, I am also a determined, prolific, supportive team player. I can easily work independently and I definitely have great interpersonal skills.
Briefly tell us about your upbringing?
My aim in life is to always do my best in whatever I am involved in. The latter view has largely been informed and mainly motivated by my mother, Johanna Neib, a woman with very strong principles in life. She has managed to raise me and instil a great sense of ethical behaviour into me and my siblings – this my mother did as a single parent. During trying times, the love in her eyes is what kept me going and growing stronger; such love prompted me to finish high school in order for me to fulfil my passion to become a teacher and now to date, to be an inspiration to others in everything I do. One of her teachings which has remained with me, is the understanding and notion that one should never forget who held the ladder in order for one to climb to unprecedented heights. That is a thought that is still with me today.
Briefly tell us about your work with AN, how did it come about?
As a kid I grew up idolising people and liking those who were known in sports. However because of the governing system that was in place at the time, there were no real chances and opportunities for blacks especially black women. I ended up having to play netball at schools, for the township clubs as well as for University of Namibia which then was called The Academy. That was the only sport that women were known for part taking in. But I quickly realised that I was in the wrong sport code when I started my teaching career, as too much of petty politics was involved as to whom must be selected and who not and decided to part ways with team sport.
I then joined the regional structures of the Namibian School Sports Union (NSSU) in 1995. After three years being in that sport union, I then found myself elected to serve as an additional member to the National NSSU Executive at the National Congress. I was later elected as a vice president of NSSU with the late Mr Toni Britz as president.
With the opening up of positions for women in sports and especially having women in leadership positions, I saw and understood at the time these opportunities and goals were reachable. I was acutely aware of the fact that sport was dominated by male leaders hence involvement of people like Ms Theo Namases who then one the only senior executive at the time, further encouraged me and that led to me to have a focused approach believing firmly that these goals were achievable.
W i t h t h e passing of the Namibi a n Sport Act of 2003, t h e N am i b ian Sport Commission was born and a new breed of leadership was needed to lead and take Sport in Namibia to next level. Minister John Mutorwa appointed me in December 2003 as a sport commissioner.
My involvement as a Sport Commissioner has exposed me to a steep learning curve within the management side of sport at national level. This experience awarded me with invaluable experiences that are of immeasurable value. I started to gain high levels of confidence. My involvement in sport catapulted me to national and international level of exposure. I can safely say today that I am a brand name in sport and I am very proud to be associated with sport in Namibia.
It was in 2009 that in my absence, I was elected at the Congress of Athletics Namibia in Otjiwarongo as senior vice president together with Mr Frank Fredericks as president.
I then took over from Mr Frank Frederick in October 2013 after having deputised him for number of years and became the very first woman president entrusted with leading Athletics Namibia.
What are challenges and opportunities facing AN?
Our main basic hurdle has always been lack of adequate financial resources. This is a matter which has been hampering progress in that one is very limited in carrying out very effective plans. However, we were able to sustain what we have been doing because of the support from our sponsors, GRN support through the Namibian Sport Commission, Directorate of Sport with the very able assistance from the athletics family as a whole. All the administrators, coaches and support staff serving AN are all volunteers and running a big sport body like Athletics Namibia on that basis is not good at all.
Our opportunities are that we still have very positive volunteers that are doing all these hard work for the love of sport. Equally we have athletes who are more than willing to better their craft and do the best they can for their country. It is high time that we redesign and equally relook the model that is being applied in looking to identify, develop and grown elite athletes in Namibia.
Athletes have not performed well in 2016, what challenges that led to the failure?
The very first thing that comes to mind for me is the lack of a targeted approach aimed at recognising the essence and importance of athletics throughout all the structures in our country. Equally it is a great pity that our institutions of higher learning are also not tuned to growing athletes by offering bursaries in that regard. Linked to that is the fact that the funding model which is currently being applied is not pro-athlete growth. Hence my assertion earlier on that we need to change the approach with the view to have an all encompassing model. I just recently finished my Masters Degree in Sports Management and the underlining theme of my research and theme dealt with the following big question, ‘Why do we keep on failing to produce elite athlete’. Through my research it came out that there are systematic embedded factors which currently renders our efforts useless due to too many factors which directly plays a role in this equation.
What are plans to ensure maximum representation for the country at the 2018 Commonwealth games in Australia and Olympics in 2020 Japan?
Going back to the drawing board with all the stakeholders and start planning because we keep on failing to plan. More interest from the Sport Authorities must become the norm in order for them to fully grasp and understand what sport codes are going through and whether they are coping or not. We shouldn’t just see closer to these big events interest which should have been given right from the onset.
You have travelled extensively with various national teams, what memories do you hold dear?
When I accompanied the Youth Team to Mauritius in 2014 where one of the girls became an African champion in Heptathlon.
How do you balance your roles as AN boss, wife and professional teacher?
The past year was quite hectic with the studies, my full-time job, being a mother and grandmother. I travelled every third month for my contact classes for my Masters in Sport Management. I once again realised that I wouldn’t be able to do all this on my own. All my appreciation and thanks goes to my very supportive family and colleagues.
Just what do you do for a little fun?
Just trying to have fun by spending time with my family and friends with some good food and karaoke.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015