Africa’s Medal Count and Performance in Tokyo 2020

The Olympic Games just ended in Tokyo, Japan with much of the medal haul going to the Peoples Republic of China, the United States of America and the wealthy nations. The 60,000-capacity stadium where most of the events were held was mostly sparsely filled with spectators who had to go through intensive testing and observation for Covid-19.

Let none be fooled by the decoration of the two Kenyan marathon winners at the closing ceremony, Peres Jepchirchir and Eliud Kipchoge for winning the gold. International media described the games as perhaps the most successful, professional and well organized in recent times but it did not translate into a success for African contingents. Tokyo 2020 was a repeat of the medal draught for Africa.

Africa could only grab 37 medals with 11 of them gold. Those 37 medals were eight fewer than we had in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. The statistics indicate that Africa could only capture 3.43 percent of the available medals in Tokyo 2020.

Notwithstanding the immense contribution made by athletes of African origin or heritage in Europe, North America and other countries outside of the continent, African standards have largely been depressive and unimpressive. This is not limited to the Olympic Games. The French national soccer team for instance, is a supplanted African squad as shown in a recent World Cup tournament.  Ghana, for instance, emerged from its twenty something years of medal famine with a lone bronze medal. A report on the performance of the country’s team captain described the three round boxing tournament as a teaching moment for the Ghanaian by his Serbian opponent.

Covid-19 is cited as one reason for Africa’s poor performance in Tokyo 2020. But those who make those excuses forget that Africa is the least affected by both infections and deaths. There are, obviously other constraints that continue to draw back Africa’s performance in the Olympics. In fact, Tokyo 2020 was no different from previous Olympic Games.

Africa has limited itself to a few sporting events outside of athletics, thus putting all its eggs in a few baskets. The continent is not represented in the winter games for obvious reasons, and in the summer Africa appears more prominent in field and track and soccer. Efforts to train in other non-traditional events are simply not entertained perhaps for economic reasons. Financial constraints affect quality of training with corruption playing a role in the selection of teams and officials. Critics claim that the Ghana team of 14 to the just ended Olympics was accompanied by 27 officials. Also in 2014 Ghana had to transport several millions of dollars by air to Rio to pay its World Cup squad because the players did not trust the government to honor its promises after the games.

Training is a vital element in sport and the continent is deficient in the adoption of the latest techniques and technology. It makes all the difference in the performance of the Africans in Diaspora as against their counterparts at home. Host nations entice our athletes with scholarships, easily attainable permanent residence as well as professionalization of their individual sport to enable them perform in international meets for profit.

There is also the overdependence of a few athletes not only in the Olympics but also in soccer and other areas. These stenches the opportunity to win medals in other areas. Long distance runners are usually limited to their specialties. East African squads from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, among a few others have the advantage of their hilly and mountainous environment to dominate long distance field events but is not so strange and unusual that good athletes easily become adept in other areas if they receive proper training.

Amandla, however, believes that while we measure success in such international sport meets by medal wins, there are other ways to measure success. Countries that participate with a few, efficient and well-trained personnel in a few sporting events cannot be considered as unsuccessful. The East Africans have proven this over and over again. Specialization is an element of success not only in economics. Recognition of this observation could be a good starting point to reverse Africa’s declining medal count. It reduces spending over-stretched and dwindling resources in areas such as sport in a developing economy not actually considered priority.

In retrospect, the Africa’s Medal Count and Performance in Tokyo 2020 is not anything to be proud of. We can and must do better!

Posted by on Aug 13 2021. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply