Africa needs to get its act together if serious about masters track


We recently noted the cancellation of the WMA Africa region masters championships. Now we know why. Almost nobody entered. Here’s what we learn from Smain Boucetta, African masters head honcho, on the WMA website: “To all participants to the 8th African Athletics championships Masters. I am awfully sorry to inform you that the Local Organizing Committee of the games has decided to cancel this event for lack of sufficient number of participants. Only nine confirmations turned out. The LOC have endeavored to mobilize the adequate technical, financial and human resources for the success of the competition. The lack of massive participation is probably due to visa problems and other hindrances.”

Interestingly, Jerry Bookin-Weiner, USATF masters throws coordinator, speculated before Smain’s announcement that turnout was an issue:

This is far from the first time there has been no African Regional WMA Championships in a biennium. The number of masters events on the continent (outside South Africa) is infinitesimal — in fact I don’t think there are any. The number of athletes with African affiliations (from outside South Africa again) who enter the World Championships is also infinitesimal.

Simply put, masters athletics in these countries (and I would include Middle East countries as well in this) is no one’s priority, and for good reason. Support for athletic federations in these countries comes virtually exclusively from ministries of sports (often linked as Youth and Sports).

I know, from having discussed this with the Minister in one country (a person who was an Olympic gold medalist in the 1980s and someone very interested in our sport), that with rapidly growing populations that are often more than 50$% under the age of 20, heads would more likely roll if the very meager resources those ministries get were put to masters events. The focus in those countries is on activities for youth to keep them off the streets, give them something to do, identify potential elites and give what they can to the elites (often not much, just ask the elites in those countries). It is the elites who have the potential of winning the Olympic and World Championship medals that do so much for national pride (a scarce commodity in many of these countries) that reflects favorably on those in power, but that is actually secondary to giving youth something positive to do.

Being more than a bit familiar with the situation in North Africa (it is where I do most of my work professionally), I was actually shocked when it was announced that the African Championships would be held there. That they were canceled is therefore no surprise.

I will wager that the reason for the cancellation was the lack of entries to have a viable competition. With no local or national masters events in Algeria or neighboring countries (one of which has a closed border with Algeria) and the very high cost of travel within Africa the cancellation comes more into focus. In addition, the visa roadblocks to be surmounted would even stop those few with the resources to go to Algeria. Most athletes from Africa would have had to transit Europe to get to Algeria and that would have required not just an Algerian visa but also a European visa (a common European visa called a Schengen visa that is nearly as hard to get at a US visa).

So, exactly whose head should roll??

Meanwhile, South Africa (boasting 50,000 masters athletes) is launching a new website. But they’ll have to do better than “dummy type” across the home page. (“Dummy type” is print-industry jargon for placeholder text.)

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November 14, 2010

5 Responses

  1. Cornell - November 14, 2010

    Those countries have far more pressing concerns than masters’track and field. Although I love this sport, I would much rather see the African continent improve their overall health and welfare issues before a dime is spent on a track meet.

  2. Ken Stone - November 14, 2010

    But as I tell grade-schoolers . . .

    Your job is to study hard, get good grades, get into a good college, graduate with honors, find a fulfilling career and retire early and rich — so that you can run masters track!

    Africans need a goal. Why not masters track?

  3. Bubba Sparks - November 15, 2010

    They seemd to do well when we were there in 1997.

  4. Pam Immelman - November 17, 2010

    Ken, after your little dig (and quite rightly so) at our ‘prematurely’ launched new website due to a ‘technical glitch’, I must confess that I was partly to blame for sending out the message before checking out the home page containing dummy test articles. If anything, it has raised quite a bit more interest in masters athletics locally, good and bad ! The lead page could be misunderstood by those who are not familiar with the running scene in South Africa. Statistics show that approx. 100 000 athletes are registered with Athletics South Africa, of which approx. 50% are over the age of 30. However, the majority are road runners. My guess is that S.A. Masters Athletics aim to reach 50 000 athletes by any means at their disposal ! A tall order, but allow us to dream ! I am not an accountant, but if they were to get a hit rate of 10%, we would probably increase our registered masters membership by approx. 500% !!

    With regards to African Masters Athletics, Hannes Booysen, the founder and former president of AMA, often lamented the lack of interest shown by NGO’s in the regional championships, which were usually held in one of the southern African states (South Africa and Namibia) or Indian Ocean Islands (Mauritius and Reunion). The exception was 2004 championships which were held in Camerouns where only about 100 athletes competed. The lack of funding was probably one of the main reasons for lack of participation, as is the case with athletes who don’t have the means to compete in the World Championships.
    I personally, lament the lack of involvement by our own ‘masters’ athletes (over 30’s) in our sport locally. We try as much as possible to create an awareness in our sport amongst our ‘outgoing’ elite athletes. Some may show a mild interest in participating after their glory years, others either show outright disdain or even ridicule our sport as being ‘Mickey Mouse’, while yet others have shown an interest only if there is ‘something in it’ for them. Initially the interest is aroused at the mention of a world championships, but very quickly wanes once they find out that their participation is self-funded !

    After moving from the elite ranks myself and into masters athletics at age 30, I recall my own reaction when I was approached to participate in an invitation race. I think I felt a little ‘offended ‘ and also thought it was a big joke running with the ‘oldies’. It took a couple of meets to phase out my participation from more serious competition and to undergo a change of mentality about masters athletics. After 30 years in the sport by way of participation, locally and internationally and in administration, I have come to the conclusion that masters can forget about creating a big nterest amongst the current elite, but should rather concentrate on the middle of the road participants who enjoy taking up the sport which they once competed in at school and varsity level and who are now enthusiastic about it at a later stage in their life. These people are like ‘new-borns’ keen to learn, participate and even achieve at the highest level they are capabable of. Viva Masters !

  5. Jerry Smartt - November 17, 2010

    As a former elite, ’50s, it would have been easy to let the sport go. I was Smartt and kept on a roll. Otherwise, I’d be fat, I’d look old with all that flab, I’d dress old, I’d sound old. I mean, I’d have an eight or nine pack, if you catch my drift. Here’s a question for those who don’t exercise vigorously, “Who wants to look like crap.”(gee, Jerry, you really have a way with words). African elites? We know a few. If for no other reason, quality of life should be incentive enough for all nationalities. Smartty

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