High time our leaders defend African athletes

Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi have carved permanent spots for themselves in the hearts and minds of athletics fanatics across the globe. This, owing to their spectacular performances at the Olympic Games currently on in Tokyo, Japan. Sadly though, one cannot celebrate their achievements without a bitter-sweet memory that, had they been allowed to compete in their preferred 400 metres race, the outcome would have been bigger and better.

The 18-year-old runners’ arrival on the world stage was met with track and field’s contentious testosterone issue and their performance at the Olympics, which saw them blazing into the women’s 200-metre final, with Mboma scooping the silver medal, threw the debate back into the spotlight.

Mboma and Masilingi were banned from competing in the 400m race after tests ordered by the World Athletics established that their testosterone levels exceeded a 2018 limit imposed by the track’s governing body on female athletes competing in distances between 400 metres and 1 500 metres. As a result they suffered the same fate that saw South Africa’s Caster Semenya, being ruled out of the 800 metres.

This begs the question, why these issues only arise when African athletes are involved. Equally worrisome, is why African leaders fail to rally behind their athletes in the face of noticeable injustice.

For many years African athletes have been discriminated against by the powers that be in world athletics. Surprisingly, the suffering has been met with stony silence from their respective country’s athletics bodies and leaders.

Africa is home to 54 countries and none of our leaders, nor the African Union (AU), have acted boldly against World Athletics.

Ironically, when it comes to summits across the world they are the first to confirm their attendance.

Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin came to the defence of his country’s athletes, who were facing being banned from the Olympic Games because of allegations of state-sponsored doping. He referred to them as victims of “unsportsmanlike means.

At the time, Russia was under threat of an unprecedented four-year ban from major international sporting events, including the Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022, over accusations that it manipulated laboratory doping data.

In 2012, Chinese officials reacted angrily to doping accusations that were swirling around their swimmer Ye Shiwen, who won two gold medals at the London Olympics.

Why then is it difficult for African leaders to rally behind their citizens in the event that they are being bullied by World Athletics?

Frank Fredericks has already shown the world that Namibia has talent. Mboma and Masilingi have come to substantiate that position. The time has now arrived, for our leaders to pay attention and get involved; not only by rendering lip service, but with tangible support for athletes, both materially and morally.

Congratulations are in order for both Mboma and Masilingi, and their coach Henk Botha.