Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Africa's prospects in Los Angeles

Ben Mensah

With determination and dedication and taking advantage of the absence of sportsmen from Eastern Europe, African sportsmen and women are capable of swifter, higher and stronger performances which can earn them winning medals.
Ever since the emphasis on medals won at an Olympic Games shifted from individuals to national teams, the games have never ceased to be intruded by political disputes.

The first African country to withdraw from an Olympics is Egypt which, in the midst of the Suez crisis withdrew from the games in Melbourne, Australia in 1956 after unsuccessfully demanding the expulsion of Israel, Britain and France for their "aggression" against Egypt.

There were other countries like Netherlands, Spain, Lebanon and China which also withdrew from the same games for various reasons. Many more have since found political reasons to boycott the Olympic games, the latest being the Soviet Union's non-participation in the Los Angeles Games. From the African point of view, however, the significance of the Egyptian action over the Melbourne Games lies in the subsequent boycott of Olympic games by African countries the last of which cannot be said to be the threatened boycott of the Los Angeles Games as announced by the President of the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa, Mr Henry Zongo of Upper Volta.

The attainment of independence in the late fifties by African countries from their colonial masters was to result in African pressure on the organisers of the 1964 games not to invite apartheid South Africa to participate. Four years later in 1968 at the Mexico Olympic Games South Africa was finally expelled from the international Olympic Committee to satisfy African demands.

African nations' threat to boycott the next Olympics in Munich in 1972 over white-ruled Rhodesian participation was however upstaged by the Arab commando raid of the Olympic village in which eleven Israeli athletes and five commandos died.

The next games in Montreal, Canada in 1976 saw a more devastating boycott by about twenty African countries over the participation of New Zealand whose rugby team had earlier in the Year toured South Africa. The African decision announced by the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa was taken when most African competitors were already in Montreal yet that did not dissuade the majority of African nations from recalling their sportsmen home.

In 1980, a number of African countries boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games purely in solidarity with the United States of America which also boycotted the games over events in Afghanistan.

The call for African boycott of the Los Angeles Games has been described by the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa, Mr Lamine Ba of Senegal as a personal statement of the President of the Cont- inental Sports body and subsequently dismissed in certain quarters as 'too late' to reverse the anticipated massive African participation in the games. Above all, the point is made that the African continent in its present circum- stances of deep divisions and quarrels among its leaders, lacks the moral strength and justification to fight for African interests.

But the signs pointing to a possible boycott of Los Angeles persist. The boycott call is in protest against the tour of apartheid South Africa by British rugby players last month. Rugby is not an Olympic sport but like of 1976 this fact cannot dissuade determined Africans from boycotting the Los Angeles Games to show their anger over the British players tour of South Africa. Again, like in 1976, the lateness of the ban call cannot prevent the African nations from either stopping their sportsmen or recalling them home from wherever they may be.

The emergence of nationalism at the Olympic Games has therefore proved a very powerful political weapon which, since its usage by Egypt in 1956, has been wielded every four years by African nations to fight for their interests.

But it is also a weapon which has been described as destructive to the Olympic movement. Says Lord Killanin, IOC president from 1972 to 1980: "I am opposed to nationalism and I would be happier if national anthems were not used at the Games, but I realise that my view is not that of the majority. There is no doubt that some of the larger powers wish to retain the present medal ceremony and many of the newer nations, although it may be some years before their anthem is played or national flag raised, eagerly await their day."

In the past, African boycott or threat of boycott had had the effect of detracting from the glamour and keen- ness of the Olympic Games. These were the times African athletes like John Akii-Bua of Uganda, Mirus Yifter and Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, Kip Keino and Henry Rono of Kenya and Filbert Bayi of Tanzania dominated the games as star participants.

The Olympic records still have Kip Keino's time of 3:34.91 in the 1500 metres in 1968 as the reigning fastest time, while Henry Rono's triple world records of 7:32.1 in the 3000 metres, 27:22.4 in the 10,000 metres and 8:05.4 in the 3000 steeplechase remain unsurpassed.

This year however, the lone runner from Africa seeking a place among the pantheon of champions is Morocco's Said Aouita who took the bronze medal in the World championships in Helsinki last year and has since run the fastest time of thirteen minutes 12.51 seconds for the 5000 metres.

This dearth of outstanding sportsmen from Africa weakens the impact a possible boycott of the 23rd Olympics in Los Angeles would have.

Hence, barring any major dramatic development the majority of African countries are poised to go to Los Angeles and participate in the Olympic Games. A vivid indication of this African determination comes from Chad which even though in the midst of a war has named five athletes to compete in the high jump, long jump, 100 metres, 1500 metres and javelin.

A final opportunity for the African athletes to test their readiness was championship which took place in provided by the third African Athletics Rabat, Morocco from July 12-15 with about thirty countries participating.

The absence of sportsmen from the Soviet Union and a host of Eastern European countries has provided an opportunity for African sportsmen in particular to win medals usually won by the East Europeans. In this respect African boxers, particularly from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda have the best chance of exploiting the Soviet absence and win medals.

Nigeria, the country with the largest contingent from Africa, will compete in athletics, boxing, weight-lifting and wrestling. Her chances of winning medals are in boxing and athletics where Innocent Egbunike in the sprints and Ajayi Agbebaku in the triple-jump are potential winners.

Africa's three representatives in the soccer tournament include Cameroon, current continental champions who carved an enviable name during the last World Cup series in Spain and would be expected to improve on their performance in Los Angeles.

The other two countries are Egypt and Morocco who are capable of following the footsteps of fellow north African countries, Tunisia and Algeria whose exploits in previous World Cup contests are referred to with nostalgia. Undoubtedly, African nations will participate in the Los Angeles Olympic Games in not more than six disciplines and without star performers as in the past. But with determination and dedication and taking advantage of the absence of sportsmen from Eastern Europe, the African torch bearers are capable of swifter, higher and stronger performances which can earn them winning medals.

Olympic Records

Men's Track

100m 9.95 J Hines (US) 68
200m 19.83 T Smith (US) 68
400m 43.86 L Evans (US) 68
800m 1:43.50 A Juantorena (CUBA) 76
1500m 3:34.91 K Keino (KEN) 68
3000m Steeplechase 8:08.02 A Garderud (SWE) 76
5000m 13:20.24 B Foster (GB) 76
10,000m 27:38.35 L Viren (FIN) 72
Marathon 2:09:55 W Cierpinski (GDR) 76
100m Hurdles 13:24 R Milburn (US) 72
400m Hurdles 47:63 E Moses (US) 76
20km Walk 1:23:36 M Damilano (ITA) 80
50km Walk 3:49:24 H Gauder (GDR) 80
4x 100m 38:19 US 72
4x400 2:56.16 US 68

Women's Track

100m 11.01 A Richter (FRG) 76
200m 22.03 B Wockel (GDR)
400m 46.88 M Koch (GDR) 80
800m 1:53.43 N Olizarvenko (USSR) 80
1500m 3:56,56 T kazankina (USSR) 80
100m Hurdles 12.56 V Komisova (USSR) 80
4x100m 41.60 GDR 80
4x400m 3:19.23 GDR 76

talking drums 1984-07-23 Nigeria the Dikko kidnap affair Africa Olympic hopes in Los Angeles