Late last year, during the build up to the National Sports Awards organized by the Namibia Sports Commission, a lot of chaos ensued about the inclusion of Johanna Benson in the category for sports woman of the year. The disability sport movement in Namibia argued that Johanna deserved to be in that category by virtue of having won a gold and silver medal at the Paralympics in London a few months earlier.
On the opposite end of that thinking, were the Sports Commission, its sponsors and sections of the media who seemed to insinuate that the Paralympics were of a lesser status and therefore not worthy of being compared to the ‘normal’ Olympics.
Calls to boycott the Sports Awards were also made by some senior sports administrators who felt that an invisible hand was pulling the strings behind the scenes, perhaps because that hand was controlling the purse.
But be that as it may, sanity prevailed, the awards took place and Johanna was rewarded in a different category. Disability Sport Namibia however held their own awards and gave Johanna the highest recognition that they felt she deserved.
Despite the differences having been ‘amicably’ resolved, the underlying sentiment, and one which seems to have been proven last week, is that there was little regard for sport for people with disabilities. A Namibian team is currently in Lyon, France, participating in the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics Championships.
This team left the country without too much fanfare and when they reached the other side, they started raking in the medals. Yet the nation’s eyebrows were not raised. Every other athlete has reached at least the semi-finals or finals of their respective events and some, like Johanna, have one or two medals in the bag.
The nation’s silence about these achievements is very loud and deafening. The achievements are being treated as a side issue and lesser activities, such as family sports events and fun days are given more prominence. Which is perhaps the right of the individuals or groups but as a nation, these achievements by our Namibian athletes with disabilities are reason to be proud of. These are achievements that must be celebrated. This is more so for a country where athletes without disabilities are struggling to make an impression internationally.
A week ago, the chairman of the Sports Commission announced plans to whittle down the codes from 52 to at least 15 to prioritize funding. He also suggested that certain codes should rather remain social or family events and thus not deserving of national colours or funding from the coffers of the Sports Commission. The commissioner has a point and that point will be strengthened if sports for people with disabilities is elevated and given more recognition. There was hardly a time when a team of athletes with disabilities left Namibia and did not return with medals or some sort of international recognition. The collective silence about their achievements is shameful for a nation that prides itself as being sensitive to the needs and right of people with disabilities. The IPC Athletics Championships gives Namibia a second chance to acknowledge and accept that in terms of sports achievements, the athletes with disabilities are more likely to fill our trophy cabinets than would our able bodied athletes.