Marginal sports

05 October 2012

These days you criticise MTC at your own peril, especially if you are in the media. The same pretty well applies to Telecom Namibia.

Telecommunications, in particular mobile telephony, and data traffic in the form of the Internet has become a pervasive part of our lives.
Companies involved in telecommunications generate huge revenue and if managed well potentially have a massive cash cow that can make them immensely rich.
Their fantastic wealth gives telecoms companies a disproportionate amount of power in the market place.
Not only are they cash cows but they have also become sacred cows – beyond criticism and any kind of questioning.
They react very badly to anything they perceive as negative comment or questioning of their actions.
They sometimes mete out severe punishment to those in the media who dare question their infallibility and omniscience by beating them over the head with the crude weapon of withholding advertising.
However, one cannot help wonder about the wisdom of MTC’s decision to withdraw sponsorship from rugby and rather give its money to boxing.
No matter how much some of us might love the ‘sweet science’ of boxing and its most accomplished exponent Muhammad Ali, the decision does not sit well.
It raises disturbing questions.
Over the past decade, sports reporters have created a considerable amount of hype around local boxing.
Despite all the hype, the fact remains that boxing is largely a minority sport compared to both football and rugby.
For some reason though, the hype has not only sucked in MTC but also NamPower and Telecom Namibia in the past.
These companies have devoted vast amounts of money to boxing sponsorships – mainly tournaments staged by one boxing promoter.
Rugby has deep roots in this country and a wide following around the country even though our national team the Welwitschias has not exactly covered itself in glory in recent years.
Even with the poor form they have shown in recent years, the Welwitschias can fill the Hage Geingob Stadium to capacity when they play an important match.
We challenge any boxing promoter to stand up and honestly claim that they could fill Hage Geingob Stadium for any of their current crop of boxers.
Many sports fans might bemoan the standard of local rugby at present.
Nevertheless, during the seasons thousands of them sit glued to their television sets to watch Super 14 rugby, the Tri-Nations or international test matches.
Somehow, we don’t think boxing on ESPN can make the same claim.
Furthermore, thousand of youngsters around the country play rugby at schools as part of the normal school sports programme.
Above all, football and rugby are both team sports, and outdoor sports, whereas boxing is very much an individual and indoor sport.
The reason why so many schools include football and rugby as part of their extra-mural activities is the widely acknowledged importance team sports play in building character and fostering certain values in young people.
Team sports teach young people the importance of teamwork.
As a member of a team, they learn the values of selflessness and sacrifice because they cannot only play for their own glory but have to play for the good of the whole team.
This teaches them the importance of co-operating with other people for the common good.
In this way, they not only learn the values of sportsmanship but indirectly also the values needed to become a good citizen.
On the other hand, the spectacle of watching two solitary men (or even women these days) beat each other to a pulp in a boxing ring now seems to appeal to a limited segment of the population.
These are the people can afford to pay N $10,000 for a table at one of the increasingly frequent but exclusive so-called boxing bonanzas or extravaganzas.
They will probably shoot back, dismissively, that rugby is a mainly white or ‘coloured’ sport.
This perception is an unfortunate legacy of the country’s colonial apartheid history.
Nevertheless, people would be surprised how many black people actually enjoy the sport of rugby.
That also applies to neighbouring South Africa, which has come a long way from the days when people mockingly referred to its national team, the Springboks, as the ‘All Whites”.
Since Errol Tobias became the first black Springbok in 1994 black players like Chester Williams, Bryan Habana, J.P. Pietersen, Tendai Mtawarira, Bolla Conradie, Elton Jantjies and the late Solly Tyibilika have become heroes among rugby fans of all races.
The sport, of course, still has a long way to go along the road to transformation.
South Africans, however, remain determined that the sport should reflect the diversity of the country itself.
They push vigorously to achieve this goal rather than turning their backs on the sport.
It is our fervent hope that Namibians will do the same, especially the corporate sector.
With the necessary official and corporate support, the country could already have moved away from the perception that rugby is mainly a white sport.
Furthermore, while the country’s rugby currently languishes in the doldrums it would not take much to bring the country back to at least the middle-ranks internationally.
When MTC first announced its withdrawal from rugby the company said it wished to broaden its support to other sports codes. It therefore came as a surprise when the company announced a three-year N$7.5 million sponsorship deal for the Nestor ‘Sunshine’ Tobias Boxing Academy.
Whatever convoluted reasoning you use, it is difficult to argue convincingly that Nestor Tobias is a sports code.
We don’t want to sound cynical, but over the next three years it will be interesting to see how much boxers actually benefit from the sponsorship and how much money goes into other people’s pockets.
During the heyday of Muhammad Ali, Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson boxing had credibility as a sport.
In recent decades, the sport has acquired an unsavoury reputation and always seems surrounded by the whiff of scandal.
Many of us have quite frankly become tired of the bums local promoters bring to the country to fight.
They seem to fall quickly to the canvas if a local boxer as much as breathes on them.
The disreputable promoter Don King has contributed greatly to damaging the good name of boxing.
Whether it comes to rigging fights where he has paid boxers to take a dive, bribing referees or judges or cheating boxers out of their purses Don King’s name usually comes up.
We hope for MTC’s sake that the money does not end up in the hands of some local Don Kings.
We found it interesting that Director of Sports Dr. Vetumbuavi Veii went to lend his name to this curious spectacle, but such is the power of the almighty telecoms dollar these days.




The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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