This article focuses on the evaluation of the performances of African countries at the just concluded Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Highlighting the expectations, outcome and the reasons behind the performances, the hope of African countries in the game and possible means to develop sports and improved participation of Africa in the Olympic Games.
Since the beginning of the Olympic Games, the African continent has witnessed ups and downs in the games. Countries from Africa have graced the occasions many times just as other continents of the world. But the big question is, has Africa’s continental presence been felt on top of the medals table or in terms of dominance in the Olympic Games? One may not have to search or think too much before this question is answered.
In Africa, the Olympic Games or even sports entirely is seen as a unifying factor, bringing about social integration, tolerance and freedom. Despite this socio-cultural value attached to sports and the Olympics in the continent, countries from the African continent still find it hard to embrace the economic value and national development value of the Olympic games and this has affected the input (investment) and output (participation and performances) of countries from Africa in the Olympic games.
Although, countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia have enjoyed relative successes in the competition owing to dominance in certain sports especially the long distance race and wrestling competitions. Therefore, we will review the last outing of African continents in the game with other factors responsible for the performances and the hope for Paris 2024.
HISTORICAL TIMELINE OF AFRICA’S PARTICIPATION AND PERFORMANCES
South Africa first participated at the Olympic Games in 1904, and sent athletes to compete in every Summer Olympic Games until 1960. After the passage of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1761 in 1962 in response to South Africa’s policy of apartheid, the nation was barred from the Games.
Alice Coachman in the 1948 Olympics became the first black woman to earn an Olympic gold medal.
Abebe Bikila in the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome, Italy made history after running barefoot and winning the marathon. The Ethiopian decision to run barefoot was as a result of the new running shoes he bought in Rome which did not fit and gave him blisters.
For winning the gold medal, the Ethiopian athlete’s name entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest marathon run in bare feet. Abebe ran the race in 2 hr, 15 min, 16.2 sec, on September 10, 1960. He also made history as the first Ethiopian and sub-Saharan African to win an Olympic medal.
Derartu Tulu is Africa’s first black female Olympic champion. Ethiopia’s Derartu Tulu pulled off a spectacular victory to win gold in the 10,000m final at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
EXPECTATIONS BEFORE TOKYO 2020
Two major wins in three days in pre-Olympic warm ups made the African champions Nigeria among the favourites for a medal in their third appearance at the Games. The D’Tigers, loaded with their American-born players featuring in the NBA, shocked the U.S. with a historic 90-87 victory in Las Vegas before beating world number four Argentina, 94-71. Nigeria debuted in 2012 and has never progressed past the group stage.
While Nigerian football failed to qualify both teams for the Olympics, the Zambia women prospered. They denied continental giants Cameroon Olympic qualification and have taken their youthful enthusiasm and hunger for records to Tokyo.
Egypt Football Team
The Pharaohs of Egypt have dominated African Football and despite missing their star players such as Mohammed Salah, one would still expect a fine outing from the Egyptian.
Cote de’ voir
The Ivorians with the young talents and recent fine form are expected to contest for a medal in Men’s Football.
South Africa rugby sevens
Since winning the bronze medal at the inaugural rugby sevens tournament at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, South Africa are now ‘going for gold’.
Hugues Fabrice Zango
Hugues Fabrice Zango’s from Burkina Faso was expected to be on the podium in Tokyo after the world bronze in 2019.
He became the first man to leap past the 18-metre mark when he set a new indoor triple jump world record of 18.07m in January 2021 Since breaking the world record, he has improved his own outdoor African triple jump record four times, most recently in July 2021 with a mark of 17.82m.
Eliud Kipchoge and fellow East Africans ready to extend their reign
Eliud Kipchoge and Faith Kipyegon are out to become only the third and second athletes respectively ever to successfully defend their Olympic titles in their respective races. Kipchoge hopes that he can match the feat of Abebe Bikila (1960 and 1964) and Waldemar Cierpinski, winner in 1976 and 1980.
She has only been beaten by Dutch runner Sifan Hassan, who denied her a third world title at Doha 2019.
The world record holder over 5,000m and 10,000m, was expected to be seeking a distance double.
Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey
This is another double record holder on the start list in Tokyo. But she will focus on the 10,000m in which she set a world record of 29:01.03 just two days after Sifan Hassan lowered the global mark.
Akani Simbine leads the sprinters charge.
Africa’s fastest man over 100 metres, Akani Simbine, continues his pursuit for a medal at the Olympics.
The South African was Fifth at Rio 2016, he just missed the podium at the World Championships in Doha where he placed fourth.
Wayde van Niekerk, the 400m Olympic champion and world record holder from Rio 2016, looking to peak again in Tokyo after a long injury layoff.
Sprint queens Marie-Josée Ta Lou of Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare are ready to step up at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Ivorian rued another missed chance after a fourth place in the 200m at the same Games. Having already finished on the podium in Beijing in the long jump, Olympic silver medallist Okagbare expects to peak on track at her fourth Games.
Nigerian wrestlers and table tennis players dazzle?
After their Rio 2016 experience, the wrestling pair of Blessing Oborududu and Odunayo Adekuoroye are hoping their Olympic dreams can come true.
Cheikh Sallah Cisse leads the taekwondo takeover
After winning his nation’s first-ever Olympic title, all eyes will be on Ivorian Cheick Sallah Cisse to see if he can repeat the Rio magic. Africa’s first taekwondo Olympic champion won gold with a last-second head kick in Rio 2016.
Ivorian,bronze from Rio 2016 the same Games.
THE PERFORMANCES ROUNDUP
Team Kenya topped the medals table for Africans at the just concluded TOKYO 2020 OLYMPICS and the only Africa in the top 20 finishing 19th. Team Nigeria was placed 74th at the end of the 2020 Tokyo Games on Sunday and eighth best among the 54 African nations at the Games.
The Games, which began on July 23 and ended on Sunday, had 93 of the 206 participating teams making it to the medals table, including 13 of the 54 from Africa.
1. Kenya– 10medals (4golds, 4 Silver, 2 Bronze) 19th
2. Uganda– 4 medals (2golds, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze) 36th
3. South Africa – 3 medals (1 Gold, 2 Silver) 52nd
4. Egypt — 6 medals (1Gold, 1 silver, 4bronze) 54th
5. Ethiopia — 4Medals (1Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze) 56th
6. Tunisia — 2medals (1 Gold, 1 Silver, 0 Bronze) 58th
7. Morocco – 1 medal (1 Gold) 63rd
8. Nigeria – 2 medals (1 Silver, 1 Bronze) 74th
9. Namibia — 1 medal (1 silver) 77th
10. Botswana — (1bronze) 86th
11. Bukina Faso – (1 bronze) 86th
12. Ivory Coast – (1bronze) 86th
13. Ghana — (1 bronze) 86th
It will interest you to know that Cuba, Bahamas, Belarus finished ahead of all African countries in the 14th position
REASONS FOR THE PERFORMANCES
South Africa offers the largest cash prize for its gold medal winner at about $37,000 for Gold, $19,000 for Silver and $7,000 for Bronze. South Africa picked up three Olympic medals (1 Gold, 2 Silver), including the first women’s medals since 2000 and their first female Olympic champion since 1996.
While Nigeria offers $15,000 for Gold, while silver and bronze medal winners will each get $10,000 and $7,500, respectively. An increase from the earlier prize award of $5,000 for gold, $3,000 for silver, and $2,000 for bronze.
Kenya won 10 medals (4golds, 4 Silver, 2 Bronze) and reportedly pays one million Kenyan shillings ($10,000) for gold medalists, $7,500 for silver, and $5000 for bronze.
Issues At The Games
Athletes and countries from Africa always face different challenges before, during and even after competitions. These issues have continually influenced the output in competitions negatively. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is no different for Africans as the Athletes struggled to get on the medals table.
About the 10 Nigerian track athletes were disqualified due to lack of attention to detail by the Nigerian Olympic Committee as well as the government. This led to further embarrassment for the nation as the athletes protested the decision of the IOC to disqualify them for what they tag as ‘negligence from other people’.
Blessing Okagbare hopes of landing a medal was also dashed when she was disqualified for failing a dope test.
The above simply implies that enough was not put in place to ensure the smooth participation of the athletes in the competition. The Country’s Olympic committee didn’t run the necessary checks on the athletes who had already worked hard to participate.
- Athletes Welfare
The Nigerian Female basketball team (D’Tigress) for Instance was supposed to use a 10-hour trip to Tokyo, but it became a 34-hour trip via Germany, which meant it took the team about 34 hours to get to Japan, arriving with barely 48 hours to their first game.
On so many occasions athletes complain about poor welfare before and even during competitions which can affect their focus to train and win competitions. This was again an issue in Tokyo 2020.
- Participation in competitions
Another issue the African continent is facing in the Olympics is the number of competitions they participate in. Countries from other parts of the world doing well in the Games participate in so many sports indoor and outdoor which increases their chances of winning in multiple sporting events and subsequently their standings on the medals table.
The issues associated with the performances of African countries in the Olympics are numerous. Aside the discussed above issues such as Poor Facilities to train, Talents emigration, Eligibility policy, Poor Funding, Social Stigmatization on the status of women as sportsmen, Technology to improve Athletes mental health and assist in doping test, lack of professional trainers, lack of will to develop other sports, Public & Private partnership to improve sports, proper development programmes for athletes among others have also been responsible for the lack of competition from Africa against countries of Europe, Asia and America.
To compete favorably in the Olympic Games and in other sports competition, Africa countries must do the following:
- Intentionally increase the investment into sports
- Improve on sporting facilities across the continent
- African Countries must be willing to offer Persuasive welfare packages which will prevent homegrown athletes from leaving.
- Naturalization of Foreign athletes must come in to complement the development of indigenous athletes.
- Talents in the continent must be naturalized with facilities available in other parts of the world
- Technology aiding positive output must be put in place to assist hard working athletes.
- Sports politics must be channeled to favor national sports development
- Training and retraining of trainers must be periodically carried out
- Mediocrity must be eradicated for professionalism and ability.
- When these and so many more are accomplished, the African continent will be duly represented on the stage and the space on the medals table will be claimed.
The Olympic Games offers more than the socio-cultural value attached by Africans; it is lucrative for the country and athletes. Governments and Private investors must see the opportunity in hosting and participating in the Games. Also, Young Africans must harness their inward strength to effectively participate and win for themselves and the continent.