With Samuel Lukhanda –
YOUR usual columnist Shamaoma Musonda is away and I will be filling in until he returns.
Whilst am here, I pledge to dish straight hard cold facts and never to be neutral on issues discussed here. So let’s get straight into it.
According to the Old mutual Two Oceans Marathon organisers, 51 Zambians took part in the marathon yesterday in Cape Town, South Africa. I can safely say that these runners forked out race fees and other related costs from their own pockets to make the trip to Cape Town and back.
This is a clear sign that Zambians are interested in running races and willing to pay the cost for it. The Two Oceans is not the only marathon these runners have attended as they have participated in Dubai, Manchester, Georgia, Soweto, Comrades, Vic Falls and many other local half marathons.
Make no mistake, these races do not come cheap but they are willing to fork out the cash. This has been fuelled by the growing number of amateur running clubs in the country especially along the line of rail. The Ndola Fitness Squad, Lusaka Fitness Squad, Kitwe Fitness Squad, Project Fit and Lusaka Running Club have been at the centre of this running fad.
These clubs are generally social entities though efforts are underway in formalising them into athletic clubs. What is surprising is that the Zambia Amateur Athletics Association (ZAAA) has not tapped into this growing niche of athletes to grow long distance running or competition.
I am well aware of the Inter Company Relay which ZAAA annually organise and the Lafarge Marathon thanks to the commitment from the sponsors Lafarge Cement. ZAAA should have noticed this and grabbed the opportunity to increase activities on their two-event calendar because these events if well managed can fund themselves.
To fill the void the clubs have come up with races and they have been very successful. ZAAA should climb down from their petal stool and engage these clubs to get ideas on how best to put together these races. These clubs have in most cases found sponsors as well because they have a vast network of corporate individuals as members. And right there lays opportunities.
Again ZAAA are on record for coming down heavy handed on some clubs who have taken the initiative to organise these events by throwing the rule book at organisers. Instead, they should embrace them by guiding instead of threatening them with law suits.
That is where there is disconnect between athletes and the officials. Athletes need the races but officials want to tore the bureaucratic line and be paid.
I have had conversations with a lot of our athletics people and they have expressed their frustrations with the establishment. They feel the sport is not growing at the same pace with other disciplines even when infrastructure has drastically improved with the new stadiums in Ndola and Lusaka plus the Olympic Youth Development Centre (OYDC).
If it was not for the defence force teams, athletics in Zambia could have been dead a long time ago.
Maybe it is time for change in the leadership of ZAAA because they have overstayed with little progress despite erratic victories here and there at international events. And it is hard for them to claim significant contribution because it is usually down to individual brilliance otherwise why do we fail to send a good number of athletes to these events?
There has been leadership change in most of other sports associations and results are showing but ZAAA are stuck in their old ways.
I salute Mr Sydney Siame for that record set and hope for bigger things at the World Championships.
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