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We need peace for sport to thrive

By Yemi Olus

A few days ago, the world was hit with the devastating news of a terror attack at the 14 Riverside Dusit Complex in Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya, which led to the loss of 14 lives, including that of a Sports journalist, James Oduor.

File: Enyimba stadium

Kenya is arguably Africa’s biggest and most consistent Athletics nation, so an attack on the East African country definitely elicits concern from Track and Field lovers and the world at large.

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Over time, Sport has served as a uniting tool for mankind, breaking barriers across social class, race, gender, religion, political inclinations, and has been used as a rebranding tool by governments all over the world.

In the words of global icon and former South African President, the late Nelson Mandela, “Sport has the power to change the world … It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

Considering the pivotal role Sport plays in promoting unity, anything or anyone that threatens the peace and stability of a people, which by extension affects the ability to stage sporting competitions, should be regarded as an enemy of national progress and development.

Security or the lack of it has become a growing concern globally, and acts of terror, such as the one recently experienced by Kenya, and even the pockets of violence rearing its ugly head in different parts of the world in general, and the continent in particular, Nigeria inclusive, has put us in a bind, especially as it concerns the hosting of international competitions.

In 2017, a number of countries including the US and Great Britain pulled out of the IAAF World U-18 Championships in Nairobi, citing security concerns. Other countries that eventually didn’t make the trip to Kenya include New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Switzerland. It was particularly painful, considering that the competition was going to be the last edition of the World U-18 Championships.

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At the end of the day, not only did Kenya successfully pull off the hosting of the competition, they went on to break the record as the largest crowd ever at a World U-18 Championships, having over 50,000 spectators at the event, which eventually led to them being awarded the hosting rights of the 2020 IAAF World U-20 Championships.

Prior to Nigeria’s hosting of the 2018 African Senior Championships in Asaba, there had been security concerns as to how safe it was going to be for foreigners to travel to Nigeria, owing to the activities of terror group Boko Haram in the north-east, and the spate of kidnappings in the south.

I recall the genuine concern of a Canadian colleague who was to travel to Asaba for the championships, considering that both the Canadian and French ministries of Foreign Affairs did not recommend travel in Nigeria. Thankfully, she was able to make the trip and the competition held in Asaba under peaceful conditions, with about 40 nations in attendance, thus allaying the fears of many.

Last month, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) stripped Cameroon of their hosting right to the 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) following a ‘significant delay’ in the building of stadiums and infrastructure ahead of the competition, which was not unconnected to the clashes between separatists and government forces in certain regions of Cameroon.

With some of the unrest and violence currently being experienced on the continent, it’s about time that authorities stepped up their game in ensuring that there is no hiding place for these terrorists, and that growing security concerns do not eventually lead to withdrawing of global competitions that ought to be hosted by African nations. We must as a continent rise up to the challenge and not allow these elements reshape our narrative into one where Africa would be regarded as unsafe and insecure by the rest of the world.

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In the past, South Africa has been Africa’s mainstay with regards to the staging of global competitions, having hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup, 2003 Cricket World Cup, 2009 Confederations Cup and the biggest of all – the FIFA World Cup in 2010. They were initially awarded the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which they eventually pulled out from hosting.

Kenya is to host the IAAF World U-20 Championships in 2020. This is the first time in the 32-year history of the championships that the competition is heading to Africa. Another African nation, Senegal, has been granted the hosting rights of the 2022 Youth Olympic Games – the first time an Olympics will be staged on the continent.

These recent developments underline the continent’s status as key stakeholders in the sporting world, so the onus now lies on our governments to not treat these threats with kid gloves, but to do all within their means to ensure that tragedies like these do not become the norm.

May the souls of the departed rest in peace!

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