East Africa doesn't deserve Olympics glory, and its athletes have figured that out too

The winds that are blowing from the London Olympics 2012 are not for the wider East Africa.

East African countries like Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, the two Sudans, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, usually don’t win anything at the Olympics.

It is left to Ethiopia and Kenya to do the heavy lifting and win Olympic glory for themselves, and the rest of their unsporting neighbours.

In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, if one looks at the top 50 performers, Kenya was the best performing African and developing country.

It was 13th, with six gold medals, four silver, and four bronze. Ethiopia was 18th, with four gold, one silver, and two bronze. Zimbabwe was 38th, with 1 gold and three silver.

South Africa managed only 70th, with one silver.

We still have a few days to go, but only an irrational optimist would believe that either Ethiopia or Kenya can win enough medals to equal their 2008 Beijing performances.

In a reversal of fortunes, South Africa is the highest placed African country in the top 50 so far. It is 18th with three gold medals, and one silver.
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Ethiopia is 27th, with two gold, and two bronze. Kenya is 32nd with one gold, two silver, and two bronze.

Algeria is 38th with one gold. Egypt is 43rd with two silver, and Tunisia 49th with one silver and one bronze.

Though more African countries have got medals this time, East Africa has declined.

Part of the problem, is that the Olympics are not yet truly global games, especially in the choice of sports.

There are simply too many medals in swimming and cycling, for example, and they seem to go on forever.

It would seem that every jump in the Olympic pool and swimming stroke, begets a medal. And every bicycle that enters the Olympics premises gets a medal for its rider.

These swimming and cycling medals allow countries like the USA, China and Great Britain to pad their medal harvests at the expense of the rest and always be in the top 10. It is a very subtle and legal way of rigging the games.

That said, East African athletes ran too much throughout the year, and they arrived at the Olympics too exhausted, and no match for the more rested top athletes from other countries.

African athletes make most of their money on the tracks and roads running long distance races.

Someone like Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, or Britain’s heptathlon hero Jessica Ennis make the bulk of theirs from endorsements (advertising products).

Ezekiel Kemboi won a wonderful 3000 steeplechase gold – but Nike is most definitely not going to use him to sell their running shoes in the US.

So no matter how good an Africa athlete is, if he or she doesn’t run at all sorts of races all year round, he or she won’t eat.

The other thing is that our countries put too much stock on our athletes to bring glory to them. In a regular year, most of our countries are in the news for the wrong reasons – billions of shillings stolen; rigged elections; road accidents killing thousands; political violence; diseases that rampage because health services have collapsed, and so on.

Wisened up

MPs pay themselves the highest salaries of any Parliament in the world and don’t want to pay tax; ministers and civil servants loot most of the money in the budget; and the rest of us who have money stash it abroad.

In early July, we learnt from a report by the Swiss National Bank (SNB), the central bank of Switzerland, that the citizens of the East Africa Community had more money stashed away in secret Swiss banks than those from any other region in Africa – at $1.3 billion.

Kenya topped the list with $857 million, followed by Tanzania ($178 million), Uganda ($159 million), Rwanda ($29.7 million), and Burundi ($16.7 million).

Yet we expect our athletes to go and run for us without being paid, and our footballers to leave their European clubs that pay their wages, buy their own tickets, and come and play for their nations for free – without even demanding a refund of their tickets.

East African countries haven’t done enough for their sportsmen and women to deserve Olympic glory.

Finally, it seems, the athletes are wisening up – and looking after their wallets and stomachs first.

cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com & twitter@cobbo3

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