Are African Athletes Patriotic?

7 August 2005 at 06:42 | 2420 views

The patriotism of Africa’s sportsmen and women has been a topic of interest in recent years as more and more of the continent’s human assets in the field of sports move to the West and other parts of the world. As we write these words, Oppong Weah, the Liberian soccer star who wants to become president of Liberia has one problem: he has French nationality, which debars him from contesting for the Liberian presidency. In this BBC report, listeners express their views on this thorny issue:

Kenyan-born Bernard Lagat became a US citizen in April
Athletics’ world governing body has rejected a plea from African countries to make it harder for their athletes to defect to richer nations for financial gain.
African nations like Eritrea and Ethiopia had wanted athletes to wait six years before changing nationality, but the IAAF imposed a three year ban instead.

This comes as Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki called on Kenyan athletes ahead of the World Championships in Finland to put patriotism above all considerations.

Over the last two years more than 40 Kenyan runners have changed nationality to appear for richer nations, especially the Gulf States.

But do you think athletes can afford to be patriotic in an era when professional sport is awash with money? Do you agree with their complaint that they do not receive enough recognition in their own countries? Should richer nations be stopped from enticing foreign athletes to compete for them? What should African nations be doing to stop the exodus?

I must admit that it is difficult for me, as a Kenyan, to watch our athletes compete for other countries, especially when I know how good they are and how proud we feel whenever one of them wins a gold medal. However, I have also witnessed the lacadaisical attitude with which athletes are treated in Kenya and, in that sense, I can understand their choice. The President’s appeal must extend to the sport’s governing bodies to treat them better and perhaps, then, the athletes will choose to remain Kenyan.
Jonathan Awori, Murray, USA

Patriotism, athletics and financial gain are one package. In a competitive environment money matters most. African countries should pay their athletes more competitively so as to keep them.
Kennedy Mooketsi, Gaborone, Botswana

How can you be patriotic if you are hungry? Let them go where the money is. Thats what any rational person would do. Patriotism comes with a price tag that is why you see that because the Americans are the wealthiest nation, they also happen to rank in my opinion as the most patriotic.
tendai huchu, bindura, zimbabwe

Patriotism is important if these athletes can afford it. It might sound a bit rude and crude, but we have to be realistic here. These athletes are doing what it takes for them to put food on the table and to put a roof over their heads. They are not only doing this for themselves, they are doing this for a better future for their children. If we were in their shoes, I’m sure most of us would do what it takes to make a better living.
Desiree, New Jersey, USA

It is shameful for a country to tempt an athlete away from his home to compete, but if the athlete makes that choice, it should be his alone. There is also the matter of if the athlete feels to be a true citizen of his country. The runners so popular from Ethiopia and Kenya are some of the members of some of the most margalized peoples in their own countries.
Alemayehu, Ethiopian in New York City

How can African athletes be asked to be patriotic when their political leaders are not? Is it not known that athletes in Kenya are rarely rewarded by the political elites, despite the glory and accolades they bring to the nation. It is also a known fact that many African sports organizations are steeped in corruption. There is a trickle-down effect, if you may, of sports administrators taking the cue from the corrupt national political leaders.
Eric Otiende, Denver, Colorado, USA

Patriotic indeed. If asked, these sportsmen and women have sacrificed enough training under very harsh and hard conditions just to represent their country. In some circumstances, most actually, they go unpaid and uncared for. When injured, some of them are left to cater for themselves. Our leaders should not just read and preach PATRIOTISM and its virtues. They should live by it. How do you explain situations where these African leaders corruptly enrich themselves. They empty the coffers of government and make situations within their country unbearable. Athletes should be allowed to seek avenues that are easy for them to make a good living. African leaders should lead and live by example and everybody including the athletes would follow.
Emeka Ekwosimba, Nigerian in Canada

Exodus of Africans involves athletes, engineers, nurses, doctors; We are in a global world and everybody wants to succeed. It is every African right to go to a country where she/he hopes to have a better future. Those African leaders who are talking of patriotism are not patriotic. If they were, we would not have the problems that we have now. The best way to keep their talented citizen is to establish good socio economic environments.
Justin Hategekimana, Pittsburgh, USa

I think the athletes must be recognised and given heroes welcome after big games.They must get the plots from the government in the city centres as presents for recognition of what they have done for the country.
stephen mayaka, ibaraki,japan