Friday, February 9, 2018

LOVE LETTERS TO TANZANIA : Does East Africa Know its champions?



By Sabine Barbara

A couple of weeks ago, the Australian Open, the first of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments of 2018, concluded in Melbourne. Roger Federer claimed his 20th Grand Slam title, which made him the first male contender to do so.

The records kept tumbling as Danish born Caroline Wozniacki, the daughter of Polish immigrants, was crowned Australian Open Champion after defeating the top ranked Romanian Simona Halep in a crowd-pleasing final which lasted two hours and 49 minutes and both newly crowned 2018 Singles Champions pocketed a record AU$4 million.

The organiser, Tennis Australia, considers this money well-spent as the ever increasing number of visitors inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy and lucrative broadcast deals are struck every year. The Australian Open attract high profile international sponsors and VIP spectators such as Hollywood star Will Smith, actor/comedian Will Ferrell, “Hulk” star Eric Bana and Niall Horan of the English-Irish boy band “One Direction”.

Readers are familiar with the current Grand Slam tennis champions and runners-up, as the East African media kept citizens updated about the triumphs of the world’s top ranked players.

Surprisingly though, many sports journalists seem to overlook local, East-African talents.

One competitor whose impressive achievements have been ignored by many African media outlets since her impressive performance in the 2015 Kenya Open at the age of only fourteen is Burundian teenager Sada Nahimana.

The New York Times, however, paid attention when Sada, at the tender age of sixteen competed in the United States Junior Open in 2017. From being ranked 2123rd in the world in the 2014 season, she has now worked her way up to an International Tennis Federation ranking of 39 after her Australian Open performance.

Sadly, despite her steady progress and impressive rise in world rankings, Nahimana appears to find it easier to catch the eye of foreign journalists and is now better known in Australia, on the North American continent and in Europe than in the East African community. Why? Do East Africans lack faith in their own athletes?

When Nahimana played in a small Australian country town’s international tournament on 13th January this year, warming up for the Australian Open, local school girls were inspired. “She’s amazing!” a blue-eyed Australian teenager remarked. Australian-based Burundians proudly explained the meaning of the letters “BDI” and the three red stars on their national flag displayed on the score boards as Nahimana and her Italian doubles partner Elisabetta Cocciaretto proceeded to the second round of the Australian Open Girls’ Doubles.

They saw the beginning of a new era but only few tennis fans in East Africa had the opportunity to share their excitement. No doubt, they would take a keen interest in Nahimana’s and other East African athletes’ achievements if the local media paid more attention, would they not?

As Sub-Saharan sports organisations struggle to raise the funds to enable players to compete internationally, media coverage of outstanding achievements is vital to entice members of the local business community to sponsor players – to avoid their exodus to countries which not only have the means to develop Africa’s talents but also give East African protégés the attention and recognition they deserve.

If talented sports people like Sada Nahimana can so easily inspire Australian teenagers, why should aspiring young African athletes be deprived of such an excellent role model? Unless wealthy East Africans get involved in sports sponsorship of outstanding talent, exceptional local athletes will continue to abandon their roots and change their citizenship in order to enjoy the recognition easily earned overseas.