Every four years the world gets to witness the spectacle that is the Olympic Games. This year Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is the host of these games. This city is famed for its Copacabana beaches, the 38 meter statue of Jesus Christ and also its shanty towns (Favelas) and flamboyant carnival festivals.
Last week I wrote about the envy the rest of East Africa has for the Kenyans at such a time. Unfortunately the Kenyans have decided to make other headlines different from the ones that we are used to. We have heard of the officials being deported for transgressions like bribery and impersonation of athletes.
Just before that, we heard the tales of some athletes missing tickets to the games while officials were already enjoying the feeling of Brazilian beach sand under their feet. Some other officials were busy taking selfies with random Brazilian belles as the athletes were stuck at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
However this is not really a Kenyan thing. As East Africa we seem to have mastered this behaviour of sending more officials than athletes to the Olympics Games. It is a tale we hear every four years and we long lost the shock valves for it. The big question therefore should be why are we like this? Why do we keep allowing this kind of behaviour to prosper? And to what end?
I think all this comes down to how we perceive these games to be. We generally see an opportunity. An opportunity to visit an exotic destination, an opportunity to go shopping, an opportunity to make money from the kits given to the athletes and for some it is even an opportunity to impress a spouse (often not the official one). We rarely see an opportunity to prosper at the track and field.
The real problem seems to be the attitude we have towards sports in general. It is yet to sink in for many that the world of sports is also a multibillion business and not really a leisure activity. Our policymakers need to digest the business side of the sports world so that they can be in position to push for investments because what is a business without investment?
We keep sending more tourists than athletes simply because we have not invested at all or enough? Where we have sports fields our politicians and businesspeople only see space for future shopping malls and apartments. Sports time at school is seen by teachers as extra time to pump children with more notes to copy and cram so as to pass examinations.
By the way it would not be such a bad idea sending more officials than athletes if these officials were spending their time making contacts with other officials from better performing countries so they can learn a few things from them. I would for example want to chat with someone from the Jamaica to learn about their success in the short races or the Ethiopians when it comes to the long races.
The problem is that just like the politicians, sports officials have over time grown such big heads that they feel they are accountable to no one. And because such trips are seen as free trips, they do not entertain questions on whether their appearance was of any value to the countries whose passports they carry.
Once the core value of something is not considered an issue then focus switches to something else. If the attitude to compete and create the next sports superstars who later become ambassadors of big brands and earn millions off their talent, then focus turns on the tourism bit of the Games. The few successful sports personalities should be used to inspire others.
If Usain Bolt can earn over $30m from endorsements then why not use him as an example in business schools to nurture business minded athletes and sports officials? This can go a long way into changing the attitudes we have towards sports so that we can begin making real investments in sports facilities beyond setting up sports betting booths in every trading centre.
African officials love to froth about how cool China is when it comes to investments but those in sports administration don’t seem to so keen on learning from the Chinese how they have invested to become a major achiever at the Olympic Games. We need to learn and act if we are to reverse this trend of exclusive sports tourism by officials.