It is Sunday late afternoon.
President Kikwete with kids at the Academy of Light....on his left is the Minister of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports, Dr Fenella Mukangara...pic by Urban Pulse.
I am standing a few meters away watching BBC journalists, Sophie Ikenye (Kenya) and Charles Hillary (Tanzania) interviewing President Jakaya Kikwete, in Sunderland. Sunderland might be as unknown to some as Lindi, Naivasha or Soroti, is to non East Africans...yet it is a word connected to Tanzanian sporting history. Back in the 1930s as President tells Sky TV later, Simba Sports Club was formed and adopted various names including Dar Sunderland until 1971 when Simba became permanent. Back then we Swahilised the title to Sanda...
Well. Not only Simba (Sanda) possessed “unusual” names, Young Africans (Yanga) was nicknamed Kuala Lumpur...
So we are in Sunderland, New Castle.
For four hours, President Kikwete has been rushing through halls, studios, swimming pools, gyms, practising rooms and class rooms; passing through fresh youth: studying diagrams and science of sports. Now and then JK stops to chat like when he spots a group of seated school children:
“You know where Tanzania is?”
The usual thing. If we had been winning games perhaps these kids might have recognised us faster. A map is quickly beamed via Google. Then bingo...
This is the Academy of Light and talented youngsters are nurtured here. At one point the President talks to a young injured player (Tom Beedling) and his physiotherapist (Jamie Oldroyd). We move with him to the indoor stadium; kids as young as five are going through the motions. It is very touching witnessing the future stars, dribbling (and enjoying) precious balls.
No wonder Kikwete tells the BBC that players he admires such as Lionel Messi, David Beckham and Ronaldo passed through such academies.
No wonder, no wonder.
We are all watching him.
Around the TV lights and cameras are fellow media colleagues, presidential attendees, Ambassador Peter Kallaghe and his team.
“Most people don’t realise, but I used to play basketball,” the boss of the nation says lightly. He is relaxed but you know the topic is a very serious issue for Tanzania.
It has been 30 years...
30 years since Moscow during Filbert Bayi and Suleiman Nyambui‘s last Olympic glory. 30 years since Tanzania participated in the Africa Cup of Nations. After that our footballing experience only knew two phrases: “withdrawing” (1982, 1986, 1994, and 2004) or “not qualifying” (1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2006...) to this year’s exit. Our highest ranking (during Brazilian coach, M. Maximo’s coaching era was 89th in 2007); at our best, 88 teams were better than us! Failing too often creates national amnesia. Memory Loss. You forget winning.
“Tanzania is a football loving nation. Tanzanians love football more than any other sport,” the President, still relaxed yet very, very serious tells Ikenye, the Kenyan BBC broadcaster.
Being in the room at such a time make you realise you are witnessing a historic moment. The decision for the Tanzanian chief to come and initiate a move that might alter the way football is developed could turn the tide and stop the 30 year old jinx, famine and failure.
“Why did you choose Sunderland and not bigger clubs?”
The President says he met Ellis Short - American owner of Sunderland who was in Tanzania (for other business) and in the course of their conversation the eternal question popped out (I should add in capital letters).
HOW CAN WE IMPROVE OUR FOOTBALL?
Sunderland might not be Man United (Sunderland stood at number 17 out of 20 teams this year) but they have one of the best academies for youth training (their Stadium of Light is the fifth largest in the UK). Most footballers might be in super teams like Chelsea, but they reached their brilliant form after passing through academies in smaller clubs. Three of best Premiership players: Arsenal’s Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tottenham’s Gareth Bale (considered one of world’s best strikers) are products of the Southampton Youth Academy. In their 127 years, Southampton has only been victorious once when they lifted the FA Cup in 1976 by beating Manchester United one nil.
Academies are important.
And that is why the President is telling the media: “This is the way to go. It is an investment, but it will take time.”
So we must rotate in the classical thread. Start everything from grass roots. Train, teach and encourage youth. Global electricity giant Symbion Power, Chief Executive Officer, Paul Hinks, promises phase one shall build a training ground academy in Dar es Salaam which can be used 24 hours a day to improve the quality of football in Tanzania. “The technical expertise of the academy will be from Sunderland AFC.”
According to Sunderland AFC statement phase two of the project will see “the creation of an elite academy programme and facilities to support Tanzania in the development of young footballers.” This adds Sunderland AFC Chairman, Mr Short “is an exciting partnership, combining football engagement that will enable us to share our expertise to help Tanzania develop an effective football infrastructure.”
Also published in Citizen Tanzania...