By the time you read this reflection, the hype that was the London 2012 Olympics will be fading in many a memory. But the issues surrounding Africa’s performance (or lack of it) at the Games will still be very much alive for most of us.
Over 200 countries competed in the London Olympics, of which 43 were African, boasting an impressive combined number of athletes in a broad range of prominent sporting disciplines – track and field. And so on the night of Friday 27 July 2012, my family and I sat in front of the TV to watch the opening ceremony. Despite the fact that Ghana is my motherland, I was supporting all the African (and Caribbean) countries. As each country was called out, I watched in anticipation, saving the loudest cheers for the African countries. I anxiously waited for Ghana.
And finally after what seemed like far too many countries had made their appearance (imagine the poor Zimbabweans waiting to see their representatives), it was time for Ghana. I could feel myself getting even more excited, ready to cheer louder than I have ever cheered in my life. I followed the camera as it landed on our flag-bearer. Two seconds later, the camera landed on Prince William and his wife Catherine. It lingered there for a while. But then it did not move. The camera stayed firmly on Prince William and Catherine. Then it landed on the flag bearer of the next country and just like that, Ghana’s moment at the London 2012 opening ceremony was over. Just like that, it was over in a blink of an eye!
No showing the rest of Ghana’s team. No mention of the fact that Ghana’s sitting President Professor J E Atta Mills had just passed away and thus the Ghanaian Olympic team may have been in mourning. No message of condolences from the commentators to all Ghanaians watching worldwide. I was so disappointed by this ill treatment of Ghana. But did it get any better for any of the other African countries? Apart from Nigeria, I do not really remember any African country getting a long time on camera. And the commentating that went along with Africa I also found disappointing. When Rwanda came out, it was war that was mentioned. But regardless, we Africans also came to London 2012. And we showed off our beautiful and flamboyant clothes (the worst dressed team has got to be Togo. Come on. It looked like they had bought the cheapest fabric possible from the Chinese and just quickly sewed some shirts!).
From the opening ceremony, it was time to see some sporting action. But at this point I must admit I really had no interest in London 2012 and did not watch many of the sports. I was more interested in Ryan Bailey, I mean the 100 metres men’s race! And maybe that is why I did not see Africa competing. Because according to the list, African countries were supposed to take part in a number of events from canoeing to running. So how I missed them I can only assume was because I did not watch much. I remember seeing a Nigerian female runner, a few long distance runners from Ethiopia and Kenya, and that is pretty much it. Africa’s performance at London 2012 was so unmemorable and abysmal.
I’m still asking myself ‘Why did we come?’ Seriously, why did we come? For it was not to win. And for all of you saying “It’s not the winning, it’s the participation”, I beg to differ. That is what losers say. Have you ever heard a winner say “I didn’t come to win? Only to participate?” No. Because winners come to win. Usain Bolt was confident from the start. He came to London 2012 to win! I have yet to hear Usain Bolt say, “Yeah, I won but that is not the important thing. I came to participate just for participation’s sake.” No. So again, why did Africa come to London 2012? For I do not think Africa came to win. Well, maybe aside from the Kenyans, Ethiopians and Somalians who know they are unbeatable when it comes to long distance. For in order to be a winner, you need a winning attitude. You need to first and foremost believe in yourself. I bet many of the African competitors came with an inferiority complex. In order to win, you also need to train. And you need to know that after all that training and investment, you will reap some financial rewards. And that is where Africa’s biggest problem is. We do not value sports (although football has gained some respect now) and thus do not invest in it. Many of our sportsmen and women cannot rely on sports financially so have to commit training time to other occupations that will bring in the money.
I saw a TV interview with a Team GB rowing team during London 2012 in which they said they had been training for four years. I bet you not one of the 42 African countries had invested in training for four years. In terms of training, equipment, dietary advice and the likes, Africa trails far behind and hence our poor performance at the London Games. Yet some of the most prominent winners at this year’s Olympics, such as Mo Farah, who left Somalia aged 10 and Usian Bolt, whose ancestors were taken as slaves from Africa, are of African origin. The Africans outside Africa performed outstandingly because the nations in which they now live have invested in them. Plain and simple.
Believe me, there are millions of Usain Bolts in Africa but for as long as they stay on African soil, they will never be Olympic champions. Because those in charge of making sure we have a great national team do not see past their own circle of family and friends. There is no sense of patriotism. Whilst the American is supporting his representative because in his mind a win for an American competitor means a win for America, in the African mind a win for an individual is just that, so why should they support / encourage it? In the African mind, because I personally will not benefit from Mr or Miss Y’s win, I do not see why I should help them do well. And so on the field of play, Africa greatly disappointed us.
As if this was not bad enough, on the cultural side of things, Africa really disgraced us with what happened at Africa Village. Set up in Kensington Park Gardens, Africa Village was meant to be the place where people could come to meet with the African competitors as well as sample food, music and drama from across Africa. Nigeria, Algeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Rwanda, Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Botswana and Tunisia all had sections to promote their country. The concept behind Africa Village was brilliant, but even before we got to the closing ceremony of London 2012, it had to be shut early because the organisers were in debt. What a huge disgrace. The first time Africa is represented culturally at the Olympics and this is what happened. Ironically, Africa Village was organised by Caucasian people from France. But at the end of the day, the message will be that Africa failed. Not the Caucasian people behind Africa Village but we, Africans, failed.
Just when we thought things could not get any worse, the news which the Cameroonians had been trying to keep amongst themselves was leaked out – 7 of their teammates had gone AWOL. One by one, all 7 just disappeared, never to be seen in camp again.
With such poor performances on the field of play and shameful shenanigans going on outside, can you really blame me for asking ‘Why did we come?’ But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.