Africans and the Olympic Games – What is the Motivation?


What will Africans be Remembered for?

Cameroonians supposedly ‘missing’ during Olympics

Shortly before the beginning of the just concluded Olympic Games, I wrote a piece for FabAfriq Magazine  carrying the same title as this post – Africans and the Olympic Games: What is the motivation? I began by asking a question and logically addressing it:

…what are the Olympic Games all about – what motivates people to come to them?

Of course, Pythagoras, many centuries BC had clearly stated that: “There are three sorts of people that attend the Olympic Games. The lowest class is made up of those who come to buy and sell, the next above them are those who compete. Best of all, however, are those who come simply to look on.”

I went on to conclude after challenging some of Pythagoras’ assumptions especially with reference to Africans and arrived at the conclusion that what motivates them is:

 Love of the games; patriotism – they can come in any order – but no more no less.

When the Olympics kick-off in London, Kenyans will win gold medals in track events, Nigerians will win gold in football (as they did in 1996) or other events, Africans from different nooks and crannies of the continent will prove their worth in gold in several sporting events. One thing that should cross the minds of anyone watching is this – all these people are making it out of nothing. Some will only be recognised if they win something – some have been only because they were able to make it to the very top – on their own.

If one is looking for people who need nothing much in life to succeed than an opportunity – look no further – watch out for Africans during the Olympic Games 2012 in London.

As we throw a glance back on London 2012 Olympics, it will likely be remembered for breathtaking performances,  the plethora of firsts for women, men and their nations, and the spirit of London that reverberated around the globe, from the scintillating and wonderfully executed opening ceremony, through the many performances and culminating in a quintessential British concert that was the closing ceremony.

There is no doubt that the UK will want us to always remember that the did so well both in hosting and coming third – second to the USA and China – Michael Phelps will be remembered for becoming the most decorated Olympian. Usain Bolt solidified his status as the world’s greatest sprinter after doubts were heaped upon him before the Games but it does not end there – his relationship to a ‘White’ lady becomes an issue for massive debate.

Gabby Douglas will be remembered for being one of those to make history for her country by winning one medal individually and helping her team win another – but again – unfortunately, she will be remembered more for being the lady who did not do her hair as many would have wanted.

The link I can make between Bolt and Gabby is their ancestry which is undoubtedly African. At this stage therefore, I am apt to ask another question: What will Africans be remembered for after the Olympics?

The African Mo Farah will be celebrated for making history in the long-distance track event – and his victory is not marred by negative news! Oh! I forgot he is British! So nothing negative trails his victory.

Let me take a look at the general African Olympic standings:

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
South Africa 3 2 1 6
Ethiopia 3 0 3 6
Kenya 2 4 4 10
Tunisia 1 1 1 3
Uganda 1 0 0 1
Algeria 1 0 0 1
Egypt 0 2 0 2
Botswana 0 1 0 1
Morocco 0 0 1 1

Not too bad but not too wonderful – but going by my initial submission – many of these should be celebrated because many achieved something from nothing – many came from countries with myriads of problems: war-torn countries; countries stricken by famine and drought; countries still struggling to come out of waves of revolutions; countries at logger-heads with their neighbours – just to name a few. But were these modest achievements celebrated? Maybe! But again like everything African, the achievement is immediately clouded by unfavourable news. This time Africa will not be remembered by the medals won but by the news of athletes supposed to have ‘absconded’ or gone missing. The headlines on western media after the Olympics have been screaming like this one on Eurosport

More African athletes go missing in London

From the Telegraph to Reuters, to the Guardian, to BBC to CNN these has been what has been making news. From the initial story that came out about 7 Cameroonians ‘missing’ through to the most recent ones from Guinea, Ivory Coast to the DRC, the foregone conclusion has been that their motives for ‘absconding’ is economic! I will not challenge this conclusion given the situation in the countries all named – but I will like to ask a few questions:

Why is the media so obsessed with negative news about Africa or people of African decent?

Participants at the Olympics have up to November to legally stay in the UK – what then is this talk about people going missing – does their decision to leave their teams or camps automatically translate to a decision to stay after the expiration of their visas?

Would the language have been the same had some Europeans not been found in their hotels or camps during an event in Africa or Asia? I guess not – they would have been branded to have been kidnapped!

With the current situation in Europe, are western media outlets not being hypocritical to make it seem like Europe could be a safe haven for anyone? At least I know many people who are legally living in the continent, well qualified, with the right to work but finding it difficult to get jobs because of the recession – to make it seem as if anyone coming in would have it easy could be misleading to say the least. Casual work in the UK has become a luxury so I wonder how those who ‘abscond’ are going to survive.

What ever the answers to these questions – I guess the news is serving its purpose – making the UK look good and an appealing destination even for Olympians – while making Africa look bad – as usual. Hence, while others are making news for their achievements – Africa is being remembered for what she is – a continent where no one wants to live!

This has brought to life a question that will be asked even as the world looks towards the next Olympics in Brazil – what will be the motivation for African athletes?

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