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The Zambian National Karate Team that would meet Zimbabwe in April 1981 went into the country with heads bowed. We checked into a Harare hotel unZambianically hushed up, like sheep entering a slaughterhouse. That was my impression. We had already lost against Zimbabwe, long before we would embark on the goodwill trip to mark Zimbabwe’s first independence anniversary celebrations.

A few weeks earlier on our National Team Coach had told us that, to be honest, we were no match against the Zimbabweans. The latter were rich and were almost exclusively White. This meant that by default they had better terms and conditions of training, with access to training facilities Zambians could only dream of. But we had strong minds, so we’d be fine, he told us. Ok.

And, the Zimbabweans would probably have longer competition experience against the then already more powerful, White South African Karateka. I have to emphasize here that the apparent Zimbabwean and South African Karate training superiority as discussed here didn’t necessarily have any racistic undertones, but highlights the actual relative differences in the availability of resources and access to quality training facilities, as well as expertise. Nevertheless, it would be safe to take it for granted that at any one time, and historically, the Southern African Whites would on the average be wealthier by far compared to the majority of indigenous African people. At that time Karate training was predominantly a domain of the well-off middle-class across the board. But then again, while Zimbabwean and South African Karateka would wear the high quality Matushi Brand gis, many Karateka in Zambia would improvise with whatever available white cloth to get something similar to a gi tailored; while the other Karateka probably had guidance on appropriate diet and nutrition for top level sports performance, we in Zambia just stuffed ourselves with tonnes of nshima all year round, sending it down with a Mosi or two or three … every day more or less.

I do not remember which team won when the big day finally arrived. Two or three things stand out though: I recall feeling like I was on BBC TV as we walked into this massive indoor stadium filled almost to capacity with White people; the Zimbabwean team wore the cleanest and whitest gis against ours which had all shades of not-so-white-white clothing materials; I drew on both of my fights. I’m not sure if we did any kata. If we did I would certainly remember because I know I would have won.

Perhaps the most hilarious thing was the entire 6-man team complaining of stomach pains and diarrhea after over-eating unfamiliar rich foods at the hotel, not to mention drunkenness on Zimbabwean beers the night before. We probably lost as predicted. Our guests made up by throwing a most wonderful garden party to mark the event. This was at the most opulent home-on-a-hill of one of the then Zimbabwean national Karate organization officials. Being the youngest and, of course, the most outgoing and loudest member of the Zambian team then, I attracted a lot of attention from the Zimbabweans. I had fun. I felt like I was on a Hollywood movie. Discussions covered everything from academics, politics, business, and sport. A common thread though was concern on sport funding in general.

While it was generally agreed that sport development funding will necessarily not be priority area in much if not all of Africa, given the more pressing needs in other more crucial societal needs sectors, one way or another ways have to be found to make sport more worthwhile and more interesting for all interested and involved. It was concluded that the least African governments could do was to invest more resources at National Team levels because this is where the greatest levels of motivation and inspiration lie. The strategic and critical role of big business was also brought forth during these discussions. I guess this was my first introduction to sports administration realpolitik.

I hate poverty with passion because it corrupts people’s minds and hearts at all levels of existence. Poverty breeds short sightedness and greed; kills foresight and innovativeness, and is incurably violent and oppressive. Poverty is no state for winners. Poverty is for losers through and through.

So, when I come to Norway I start to teach Karate with my heart and soul. I soon join the mainstream, and become member of the wider Budo fraternity in the richest country in the world. I establish many, many good friendships while having the time of my life going the rounds in meetings, seminars, courses, competitions, AGMs, etc. As would be expected, my big mouth and foreigner passion would start getting me in trouble in no time at all as soon as I began to feel the vibe of the Norwegian sport administration and politics, creating a few but very powerful enemies. In various fora I would make a lot of noise about how strangely little was the money injected into general sport and talent development in Norway. I’ve even locked horns with a one time biggest boss of Norwegian elite sport administration. When cultural aspects bordering on racism were brought in the dialogue I proposed we break the stalemate by agreeing to disagree. After about 12 years of talking like to a wall and creating more enemies, I found it wise to quit the milieu for my sanity’s sake.

Twenty years on it still doesn’t make sense to me that Norway could be happy to bring home X number of Gold Medals from big regional and global competitions when in my head the potential was at least 10X at any one time, across the board, if only more resources could be pumped in sustainable general sports talent search and development, with clearly defined long-term and goal-oriented perspectives.

I maintain strongly the view that Norway has yet to be smarter at taking care of its elite sports personalities from the point of view of providing solid supportive and protective systems around, amongst other things, health and training, education, as well as secure economic future upon retirement. The few elite sports personalities who last in their respective sports do truly amazing work at unnecessary great personal sacrifices to be citizens of the wealthiest country in the world, and they deserve a lot of respect and admiration. They deserve more honour though; and this can be shown by a more open-minded, more sophisticated and global-oriented national sports politic in the 21st Century. But then again, The Times They Are a-Changin’: “Det er ganske enkelt, egentlig. Det er bare å gi mer penger til idretten…/ It’s simple really. Just give more money to sport…” Eirik Verås Larsen

Norway has to learn to be comfortable with the fact that it IS a very wealthy land with almost infinite possibilities to make the country a small paradise on earth for its people. And Norwegians have to learn to be comfortable living out to the maximum potential their (God-?) given wealth in Norway without fear or favour. It’s your luck, for fæn!

Simon Chilembo
Tel.: +47 97000488/ +27 717454115
September 05, 2012 


1 Comment

  1. […] Karate Nationals kata gold medal. In April 1981, I was part of the Sensei Noble-led and sponsored Zambia National Karate team that met the Zimbabwean side. It was on the occasion of that country’s first year of independence anniversary celebrations. […]

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