Saturday 15 May 2021
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Namibia battles sports racism

Unpleasant incidents involving racial vilification continue on and off sport turfs, a situation that prompted the Namibian Sport Commission taking a zero tolerance approach towards racism in sport this week. The recent incident is that of young 14-year old hockey player Liya Herunga who was initially called up for the girls’ team that will tour to Zimbabwe but was later dropped and subsequently included in the under-18 squad instead.
The issue drew widespread criticism on social media after the player’s mother took to Twitter to share her dissatisfaction on how her daughter was being treated.
The NSC, upon learning of the incident, convened a meeting with all affected parties  responded to the account calling on a meeting with all involved parties this week. The meeting resolved to suspend team coach Mareke Short.
“The commission considers this matter as very serious and that this case should not be treated in isolation as there could be many of this kind which continues to damage the good name of Namibian sport,” said the NSC Chief Administrator Freddy Mwiya.
The commission recalled Short and in the interim recommended the appointment of Magreth Mengo to be head coach of the hockey team tour. The commission also called for Liya to be brought back to the U-16 team.
“The Hockey Union’s leadership considers this matter very serious and damaging to the image of the federation and as such they will establish a task team to launch an investigation into the matter, and submit a report that regard and will call for the press conference to enlighten the nation,” said Mwiya.
The hockey union was directed to in future do reference checks and balances when doing recruitment of coaches as they will be held accountable for the actions of whoever they employ to represent the country.
Members of the public are also urged to come forward should they have experienced racial discriminations.
“We were already investigating cases of this nature in hockey so this case just came at the right time. It is not so much about race but discrimination against a person. The girl is a top player so there is obviously something not right when she is all of a sudden removed. So we will be looking more into cases of this nature with other sport codes because we know there is discriminations.”
MTC’s Chief Human Capital and Corporate Affairs Officer, Tim Ekandjo also expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment Herunga had to endure at the hands of those who are expected to nurture and develop sports in Namibia.
He also demanded the immediate reinstatement of the athlete in the national U16 hockey team and has advised her coach, and her appointing authority, not to take this request lightly or else face the wrath of the Namibian people who are against institutionalised racism.
Ekandjo said sports administrators who harbour racist ideals have allowed, supported and promoted bold-faced discrimination to the detriment of sports development in an independent Namibia.
“They cannot be allowed to get away with it any longer.”
“Racism in sports is sad and our authorities have relegated themselves to toothless bystanders. Although MTC does not sponsor hockey, we will not sit idle and allow racism to flourish.  We call for the reinstatement of Liya with immediate effect and for administrators who are not in sports for the right reasons, to step aside.
We know who their sponsors are, they are Namibian companies who do not condone racism and if she is not reinstated by Friday this week, we will go on a national campaign to convince all these sponsors to withdraw their sponsorship and call on the Namibia Sports Commission not to give this team national colours and represent Namibia” said Ekandjo.
Few years ago, MTC halted its sponsorship to Cricket Namibia after allegations of racism were levelled against management. MTC afforded Cricket Namibia an opportunity to redeem themselves by implementing a quota system that will allow talented black players to be integrated into the team over a period of time but Cricket Namibia failed to do so and MTC pulled the plug.
The Ndeulipula Hamutumwa Sport Trust also weighed in on the saga saying sport is one of the world’s strongest unifiers, thus racism has no place school, club and even national levels.
“Racial discrimination in sport has been strongly condemned by many public figures across the country.
In team sports, such as hockey in this case, racial barriers can hinder the performance of a team and deteriorate the athlete’s spirit and the team’s unity,” said Hamutumwa, adding that racism in sport is counter-revolutionary.
“This blatant exclusion is an example which we hope sheds light on this serious situation. Racism, even among young people, has become so normalised in our society that too few people call it out.
It is appalling to the Trust that young talented Namibians are still being awarded opportunities based on race, and we strongly believe that all talented athletes should be given equal opportunities across the breadth of the country.
The Trust applauds entire nation for its continual support of Liya in this case,” Hamutumwa highlighted.

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