A group of frustrated athletes have called for the resignation of the entire Athletics Namibia (AN) leadership, arguing that the current leaders have done little to improve their conditions of service.
The athletes, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, told the Windhoek Observer that the current leadership at AN does not serve in the best interest of the sport.
The athletes said they would rather have former athletes such as Tuihaleni Kayele and Luketz Swartbooi leading AN.
The two retired long distance runners are regarded as the country’s best ever.
Kayele competed at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, while Swaartbooi won a silver medal at the 1993 World championships in Stuttgart, Germany and at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
The athletes, who are mostly employed in the Namibian Police Force (NamPol) or the Namibian Defence Force (NDF), also complained that AN issues grant leave letters to their employers very late.
The leave request letters arrive only a few weeks before they are scheduled to participate at international events, which negatively affect their preparations.
“The media has taken the whole issue of us not performing well at major events out of proportion not knowing the conditions in which we are operating in. How do you expect us to outperform the Kenyans who are in daily training programmes for years, if we only get the letters to allow us to take leave only two weeks or three weeks before the events start?” one of the athletes queried.
Another athlete said she has used the same jacket for many years when representing the country because she cannot afford to buy a new one with national colours.
“I have been using this jacket for many years because it has a Namibian flag, even if it is dirty I just have to wear it because I do not have another jacket with the country’s colours,” the athlete said.
Another athlete, who is currently out injured, said she uses her own pocket money to pay for medical expenses whenever she needs treatment.
AN President, Erwin Naimhwaka, denied some of the allegations leveled against his committee, but strongly stated that the lack of resources are at the heart of the athletes’ complaints.
“I do not agree with the sentiment that our athletes always perform poorly at global competitions. We have had medal winners and strong showings over the years. Our athletes are trying their best at international competitions, but are forced to do so without the financial support they need.
“In that perspective, I agree that Namibia as a country is not supporting the athletes to enable them to perform at a more competitive level. However, the strict focus on the negatives is also not helping. We need to motivate and encourage our athletes to persevere, instead of always telling them that they are failures,” Naimhwaka said.
He conceded that AN does send out leave letters late to employers, but assured the athletes that things will change soon.
“The administration section of AN has not performed at a satisfactory level. We are addressing the problem, but it is not easy when you are a 100 percent volunteer-run organisation. Our volunteers doing administration give their time freely and have their own fulltime jobs as well. This impacts the efficiency of the administration of AN,” he said.
The AN president said former athletes are more than welcome to assist the association in whatever capacity.
“I have been in athletics for a long time now and I am not surprised by the claims, because ultimately they are linked to the issue of resources which continues to haunt sport in Namibia. I would love to have all these guys (Kayele and Swaartbooi), as a part of the AN structure. Our doors remain open to anyone that wants to contribute.”
AN receives N$150,000 for development and an additional N$50,000 for administration from the Ministry of Sports, Youth and National Services, “but this is not enough to cover operational costs,” Naimhwaka said.
“I intend to try my best to put athletics on a good footing. The strategic plan we put in place to significantly advance athletics in Namibia has a proposed budget of N$10 million,” the AN president said.
“AN also receives a limited sponsorship from The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Coca Cola Namibia and the MTC Sponsorship that is specifically for the Dr Sam Nujoma Half Marathon event.
“However, the total of these sponsorships is less than N$1 million, which is less than 10 percent of the amount required to conduct a meaningful athletics programme,” Naimhwaka bemoaned.
“You are not the commission,” Rukoro said when asked by the Windhoek Observer about this issue.