The turning point in Gambian sports
Monday, July 21, 2008
The sporting sector is unique in that it is the only sector that has the youth totally dominating it. Given his stance on youth affairs, it is not surprising that President Jammeh himself does not only stop at merely supporting Gambian sports, but he also identifies with its major stakeholders, the youth. This is in line with a practical judgment that sports could be a perfect vehicle to help re- shaping the lives of the youth.
Recently, the Gambia government launched a comprehensive National Policy, stipulating a set of goals and implementation strategies for the development of sports in the country.
The government, through the department of state for Youth and Sports, has also embarked upon the decentralization of sports infrastructure through the construction of sporting facilities across the country. To begin with, each and every administrative region is supposed to have one mini-stadium.
Today, the Gambia has registered remarkable achievements in almost all the sporting disciplines - thanks to government's unwavering effort and, by extension, the President's conspicuous personal contributions.
The overall achievement encompasses the entire sporting disciplines: including athletics, tennis, basketball, and the world's most popular sports - football.
Athletics has been practiced in The Gambia since the colonial days, but it wasn't until in the early 2000 that the country started making headlines for their great stride at international competitions.
The respectable performance of the Gambia 's Athletics Team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne, Australia, led to the award of scholarships to three promising, young Gambian athletes, in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In 2007 the Gambia Special Olympics team registered an outstanding performance, winning 2 gold medals, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze and 3 Ribbons in the SO WORLD SUMMER GAMES 2007, held in Shanghai, China. As the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games draw nearer, the Gambia is optimistic in making a replica of the 2006 performance.
The game of tennis has been regarded as a difficult game until recently, when the country began to excel. The notion of difficulty attached to it is owing to the total availability of the facilities. But thanks to the new approach by key stakeholders in the sports, under the guardianship of the National Sports Council, The Gambia now boasts of numerous tennis courts which are scattered around various centers across the tourism areas; a handful of these are situated at the Independence Stadium - a one-stop-shop for youth and sports, as it houses all the sports development infrastructure.
Basketball remains a popular game in the country for quite a long time now. A notable phenomenon about the sport is that having been limited to only the able-bodied people, it has now been extended to the disabled people with the introduction of the wheelchair basketball. A basketball association for disabled people was inaugurated in 1998, and since then, the association, with the support of the government through the National Sports Council, has been growing in size. It currently has over 100 members/players, ranging from 14 -50 (and there are both men and women players, although in most competitions it is the men that take to the court). Nonetheless, the team has been successful throughout, winning many medals, the latest being the gold medal it won in Mauritania.
Cricket is gradually growing in the Gambia and, in recent years, we have had many visiting teams from abroad, who engage their Gambian counterparts in various friendly matches. The Gambia National Cricket team also regularly takes part in various ICC tournaments throughout the year.
Football remains the most popular game in the Gambia and the world as whole. The country has participated in the qualifiers for CAF/FIFA organized competitions since 1950s. However, the people of The Gambia, it seems, had to wait until 2005 before we landed our first-ever trophy in a CAF recognized competition.
The Gambia National Under 17 team made history in the circles of African football when they clinched the 2005 CAF Under 17 champions hosted in Banjul.
The historic maiden gold medal prize in Banjul finals earned Gambia the right to contest the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2005, held later on in Peru - and the Under 17 finals in the South American nation were to mark the Gambia's great entrance to the world football stage.
Nobody gave the novice much of a chance, especially when the first game saw us pitched in at the deep end against reigning world champions, Brazil. But the Gambians upset the form books, pulling off a sensational 3-1 win that made the football world stood up and took notice. Three years on Gambians still talk about that eventful day.
The nucleus of the same team proved, during the CAF African Youth Championship in Congo 2007, that anything is still possible.
Making its debut at the Africa's second most prestigious tournament, the small West African state clinched the bronze medal with a 3-1 win over Zambia, in the match for third place.
The awarding of another titles, this time individual ones, only served to emphasize the Gambia's wealth of talent. Joseph Gomez, goalkeeper of the Darling Scorpions, was named player of the tournament in his position, while forward maestro Ousman Jallow, walked away with the Golden Boot title, after completing the tournament as the top scorer. The historic bronze medal prize in Congo finals earned Gambia the right to contest the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2007 held later that year in Canada where they also acquitted themselves with aplomb.
On the whole, sports in the Gambia, under President Jammeh, has registered tremendous achievement, leading to all these coloureful results. And there is every indication that this trend will continue.
Author: by Nanama Keita