National Sports Indaba Gets Underway

The National Sports Conference of the Namibia Sports Commission got underway to great fanfare as a packed hall of close to 300 delegates attended the official opening on Thursday morning.

The three-day conference under the theme, ‘Creating a Winning Sporting Nation’ will cover a wide range of topics relating to Namibia sport and will see a host of local and international sport personalities participating.

The Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture Jerry Ekandjo delivered the keynote address of President Pohamba to get proceedings underway.

He said Namibia was confronted by key socio-economic challenges such as youth unemployment, underdevelopment, gender based violence and poverty.

Although Namibia had a ‘good story to tell’ regarding sport over the past 24 years, it was appropriate as a nation to ‘take stock of where we are coming from, where we are and where we want to be in the years to come.’

“This unique exercise will help us to position ourselves strategically amongst the best in the world,” Pohamba added.

Pohamba said the conference should be a ‘broad festival of ideas, and a platform where member of the sporting community leave no stone unturned in sharing their experiences from their respective regions.

“This conference should serve as a platform where everyone has a voice and where there is an attempt to find a common understanding. We must further ensure that transformation in all aspects is realised if we are to become a nation of champions,” he said.

The role of sport in uplifting societies

Thursday’s opening topic, entitled ‘Namibia Sport Development since Independence – mapping out the future of Namibian sport’ already saw some active discussions taking place as panelists and members of the audience raised numerous issues hampering the progress of sport in Namibia.

The Secretary General of the African Union of Sport Councils, Mvuzo Mbebe highlighted the important role of sport in uplifting societies and nations and that more and more leaders around the world were realising the importance of sport.

“Sport can inspire and change the world, it provides hope and unity to people, it helps build an identity of a nation and it provides a common language of nations,” he said.

According to Mbebe sport is not high on the agenda of African governments because it is not seen as important compared to other socio-economic needs, while sport itself does not quantify or highlight its contributions to its societies.

“To fully benefit from and exploit the opportunities of sport it is essential to have an integrated sport system in place that is effective, efficient, coordinated, aligned to the nation’s agenda and performance driven in each of the above aspects,” he said.

Mbebe said sport had a duty to transform society but it could only do so if sport itself was transformed.

“If you don’t address the transformation of the economy of sport you do so at your own peril. For example, if you don’t transform your sport marketing agency industry who are being influencers of the sponsors of sport, whether federations, clubs or individuals, how do you think this industry on its own will help to drive the transformation agenda,” he said.

According to Mbebe, sport needed to partner with other ministries and sectors of society to put sport at the centre of its agendas.

He said sport had become big business and it needed to include numerous industries of the economy to thrive, such as the fitness industries, health food industries, the media, marketing and sponsorship, eventing and conferencing industries and the hospitality industry. Other industries that benefitted from the growth of sport and need to be included are the construction industries, telecommunications and technology and consulting industries.

Mbebe said that sports tourism had become an important part of global tourism and that Namibia needed to maximise its potential in this regard, by attracting international events and also creating its own international events.

Vigorous debate

The other panelists, who all contributed to a vigorous debate, consisted of former sport administrators Eliphas Shipanga and Callie Schaefer, former director of the Namibia Sport Council Karel Persendt, Carol Garoes of NAWISA (Namibia Women in Sport Associations) and Aocate Bience Gawanas, who played a major role in the management of sport in Africa while serving as Commissioner of Social Affairs for the African Union in Addis Ababa.

Gawanas said sport projected a positive image of Africa and played an important role in peace building in Africa, but that it needed a structure, a vision and a holistic approach which included all its stakeholders.

“To create a winning nation we need to address the issue of governance and we need to get the management and leadership right. We need professional administrators and we need to build administrative capacity,” she said.

According to Gawanas the government played a crucial role in the development of sport in Africa.

“We must build a more positive relationship between the government and the sport sector because we live in Africa where the role of the state is critical in developing sport,” she said.

Persendt said sport leaders needed to make use of their positions to transform sport.

“I had a mandate to lead the Namibia Sport Commission and had to make some unpopular decisions during my time. The people in power need to make use of their positions to transform sport. Some codes in Namibia haven’t changed at all since Independence and are still all white,” he said.

Persendt also called on the private sector to get involved in sport and on the government to create tax incentives for companies that support sport.

Garoes said that transformation in sport was not easy and moved slowly, specifically with regards to women in sport.

“There has been some change since the time I started, but it’s still largely a boys club,” she said.

“How can you talk about gender equality when you don’t have it in your leadership,” she added.

Eliphas Shipanga said more emphasis should be placed on scientific research and development, while Namibia’s top sport codes needed to get more funding.

“Let’s put more money into sport codes that are performing at international level, and are achieving success at the Commonwealth and the Olympic Games,” he said.

Callie Schafer called on all the participants to seize this opportunity and to play a role in creating a ‘new chapter’ in Namibian sport.

“We need to take a giant step if we want sport to progress in Namibia. Our administrators have done a wonderful job but they are still amateurs. We need to become more professional and we need to put more effort and investment into talent identification and to prepare these athletes for international sporting events,” he said.

The conference continues on Friday and Saturday at the Safari Hotel in Windhoek.

Source : The Namibian