By John Tuerijama
NAMIBIA’S veteran athletic coach, Letu Hamhola, lashed out at critics who labelled Namibia’s performance at last year’s Olympic Games in Brazil as dismal, saying it is disrespectful to call athletes underperformers.
Confidente Sport sat him down to discuss the reasons why Namibia has since Independence in 1990 failed to produce world class athletes besides the likes of Frank Fredericks and Agnes Samaria.
Confidente: Looking at Namibia’s dismal performances at the previous Olympic Games and African Championships, do you think the country has the potential to produce quality athletes in the next three to five years?
LH: First of all, I totally disagree with the notion about dismal performances at the Rio Olympics. I have maximum respect for the men and women that represented my country and believe it’s total disrespect that we have to call them as failures or losers. I have been to many countries and people worship their Olympians cause that’s the biggest show on earth and to reach it is a major achievement. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry does. Therefore, before we criticise them, how much did we spend on them to qualify or to prepare properly? Absolutely nothing, zero, zero, zero.
The road to Japan 2020 has already started in 2012 but what is being done, we just wait for 2020 and then people all of a sudden want to come and have a say and boss people around. Even worse the poor coaches that have worked hard for 4 to 8 years are just pushed aside with no respect. The athletes and coaches wake up every day at 4am and then again in the afternoons in the scorching sun and nobody cares. Let’s put it in perspective. Where did our marathon runners qualify for the Olympics? Beata Naigambo – Valencia in Spain; Mynhardt Kauanivi – Sanlam Cape Town Marathon in South Africa; Alina Armas – Mungyeong in Korea; Helalia Johannes – Vienna City Marathon in Austria and IAAF Gold Label Marathon; Lavinia Haitope – Botswana Gaborone Marathon. None of them qualified in Namibia, they had to make their own arrangements and use their own money to qualify and that’s the same for the other Olympians.
It is rather high time that we start investing in our sportsmen and women, both developing and elite athletes. In Namibia, we wait for athletes to qualify before we show any interest or provide them with peanuts. We need to plan now for 2024. The African Champs in Durban was an eye opener but I know the new Athletics Namibia (AN) leadership has taken the approach that we tackle problems collectively, to create athletes that can represent Namibia.
Confidente: What can the athletics leadership do in terms of programme implementation to ensure we produce the likes of Frank Fredericks, Lucketz Swartbooi and Agnes Samaria?
LH: It’s a collective responsibility between all stakeholders. Namibia is blessed with a lot of talent but they are out there in the rural areas and we need to find them. Therefore Athletics Namibia, Ministry of Sport, NSC, NNOC, NSSU, TISAN, NDF, NAMPOL and Correctional Services need to work together as everyone has a role to play.
I know we have many athletes and boxers in uniform sport but everyone is still operating in isolation and that should change. However, at the moment all we do is criticise each other and that’s a serious Namibian sickness. We went to Eenhana last year to introduce Kids Athletics, I could not stop admiring the kids amazing talent for athletics, wrestling, gymnastics they just have it. I have seen the same in Opuwo and Tsumkwe. We need to expose them to sports then we will return to glory days and that starts with having coaches all over Namibia. I am happy that AN and its new president Erwin Naimwaka have taken the approach to include all stakeholders on the road to produce world class athletes.
Confidente: Where do you think Namibia has gone wrong?
LH: School kids just don’t run anymore. Gone are the days when teachers stood in the sun and athletics was the highlight of the first term. I am sure 95 percent of the schools have lost the tradition of highly competitive inter-house competitions.
Do children still sing and do we still literally worship the top athletes? I wonder how many schools have even stopped doing athletics. Jamaica is successful because they have a very effective school sports system and physical education is part of the educational system. After independence, we kicked out physical education, now look at our sport and the effects are clear. Jamaica has a physical education college that has produced many coaches for the island and Cuba has the same. Schools have a very important role to play, therefore, without an effective NSSU we are doomed.But make no mistake; we are also our own worst enemies.
Just look in most sport codes; administrators are at each other’s throats.
We abuse and insult our very own athletes/players. Sadly, I have experienced the blind hatred, back stabbing and jealousy in sport. In Namibia, we get pleasure in bringing our own down or pray so hard they fail. Tjipekapora Herunga still doesn’t understand why she wasn’t in Rio. Just the other day we were in Rustenburg celebrating the Brave Warriors win and Deon Hotto was a hero but the next moment we were insulting the young man for missing a penalty. Even Messi misses penalties. At the All Africa Games in Congo in 2015 some top ranking Namibians at the Games were praying that the athletes training in Jamaica fail. No wonder nobody remembers that they won a silver and two bronze medals.
Confidente: Do you think lack of state-of-the art stadiums and high performance centres have negatively affected the development of athletes?
LH: Nope, I don’t agree. Stadiums and high performance centres don’t make athletes. They just make things easier. The most important factor is the human resource. We have very few active coaches in the country. Therefore, no matter how many high performance centres we build, if we don’t have trained professionals they will just become white elephants.
Cuba and Jamaica don’t have state of the art facilities but they have the human capacity. However, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to have good facilities in all 14 regions. It’s just we shouldn’t use it as an excuse to start with or without anything. All you need is a plan.
Confidente: Compared to neighbouring countries, what lessons can Namibia learn from them?
LH: Botswana is a good example. We used to beat them left right and centre, but look how they have progressed while we are still just writing and drafting sport plans. They have built many stadiums and they invest in their sportsmen and women, especially their young athletes. Believe me, no plan is perfect therefore I can sit here and criticise them or South Africa but at least they are trying. It’s evident with their results at Olympic Games, World Championships right through to junior level. When last did Namibia have an athlete qualify for the IAAF Junior Championships on the track? And that should show us that if we don’t excel at junior level we would struggle at the Olympic level.
However, the governments in South Africa and Botswana continue to play an important role with their success. Political will is important if we want to achieve any targets the country has set. We Namibians like discussing way to long and we are not bold enough. Every time I hear the same song we talk about physical education in schools, tax rebates, prioritising sport codes and all is just talk, no action. If we feel that sport is important as health and education, then we need to stand up and go explain to Parliament and cabinet that money doesn’t fall from the sky. When will sport bodies be self-sustainable? If athletics the only code to have brought Namibia Olympic glory is a top sport code then why don’t they still have an office, sponsor or why is the federation run by volunteers? Botswana for example has built offices for their prioritised sport codes with full time officials. In Namibia, athletics and netball are still being administered from the boot of a car and Paralympics is in the corridor of the NSSU offices.
Confidente: What is your opinion on the shutdown of the Jamaican programme by the Ministry of Sport, and how would that have benefited the athletes?
LH: I don’t want to express myself too much on the Jamaica programme, apart from the fact that it is absolutely not true that the Jamaican programme has been shut down. We still have our athletes in Jamaica. My dream is too one day see our elite athletes competing regularly in the diamond league, World Championships and Olympic and Paralympic stage and for us to have a strong base of athletes training and studying at our Namibian universities and an effective TISAN has an important role to play. Do UNAM, NUST, IUM even have athletics teams?
Our athletes can just benefit from training and competing with the world’s best, so why would a country want to stop exposing its athletes to train with the best. I know there are many athletes in the world who would dream of training with Fraser- Pryce, Elaine Thompson, Bolt and Blake, however, with the current group we need more juniors and Paralympic athletes.
Confidente: Looking at the status quo of athletics and the everlasting financial constraints, do you think Namibia will have representation at the IAAF World Championships (4 -13 August, UK) and the IAAF World Under-18 Championship billed for 12-16 July in Kenya?
LH: The financial challenges facing Namibian sport is not easy. I know because my athletes missed the African Championships in Durban. I hope this year our athletes will get quality competition because athletes can’t train forever. They need competitions.
However, we are in the beginning of the athletics season and until the deadline for entries, every athlete that is committed and dedicated stands a chance. It’s difficult to predict but for the Senior World Championships we have about five athletes that can make the grade, but apart from Tjipekapora Herunga the other four athletes need to run or jump personal bests to qualify.
Schools have good competitions but we have to create more chances for everyone especially seniors both locally and abroad in Botswana, South Africa, and Europe. I am very happy that the new Athletics Namibia leadership under Naimwaka has shown initiative and has a great strategic plan with the motto ‘Committed to Produce World Class Athletes’. I believe if we all work together we can make good strides towards producing world-class athletes.
Confidente: What advice can you give to athletes wanting to compete at the above-mentioned championships?
LH: There is not much I can say because for an athlete to compete or qualify they need the right coaching, attitude, medical assistance, conditioning, supplements and many other external factors.However, any athlete that wants to compete at the highest level must understand there are no short cuts. My motto is ‘No Pain No Gain, No Ticket to the Plane’. They need to be committed, dedicated and hard-working, which involves a lot of sacrifices. Our athletes are not really committed, they want to go to Christmas holidays, weddings, funerals, parties and forever absent from training but just remember when you don’t train your opponents are training. However, if you have started trainwwing in October keep working and do the best
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015