Of all the opportunities I have ever had to talk about the good work of Abou Dandeh Njie and to express my personal appreciation, there could not be a more fitting moment than this time of his retirement from active service to the Gambia National Olympic Committee (GNOC), an organisation in which he served as president for 20 sterling years. His retirement also marks several years of service to sports generally, 50 years at the very least.
Although I recognize the fact that we have played pretty much the same major sports, namely tennis, football, table tennis and cricket, our paths however rarely crossed in sporting history. This is the case on account not only of his seniority in years, but more ostensibly of his higher profile in sports excellence, and standing in the Banjul community in which we were both raised. I am able to speak of him merely because I'm fortunate to have followed his sporting career closely, from school sports to his recent retirement from GNOC presidency.
Abou Dandeh, as he is fondly called by sports officials, team mates and fans alike, is not one of these common, run-of-the-mill sportsmen like my poor self. Abou towered tall in all the various sports he put his hands into. What generated that type of profile was of course pure class, confidence and finesse. He gave a consistently high class performance. He exuded a natural confidence that seemed to buoy his output while having the effect of dampening his opponents. He was not just popular, he was clearly a very gifted, disciplined and versatile sportsman, as the ensuing narrative will abundantly demonstrate. And if I use superlative language, it is Dandeh's fault not mine.
Born in Banjul on the 1st March 1937, Abou was comprehensively educated at the leading Koranic schools (Dara Pa Jobarteh etc); also MethodistBoysHigh School (now GambiaHigh School), WestminsterCollege, London, and articled with a firm of Chartered Accountants in London. This wide coverage helps perhaps to explain the width and depth of intelligence and experience that Abou brought to bear in sports and competition, and sports administration. Coming to sports, a sports biographer once said of him: "At an early age, he showed keen interest and promise especially in football, cricket, athletics, table tennis, lawn tennis and a variety of indoor games; his versatile sporting activities coupled with self- discipline and loyalty to his school, was to earn him sports Captain of Aggrey House and sports captain of Methodist Boys High School." Apparently this was only the beginning. He went on to sweep an endless array of trophies, medals, certificates, awards, and responsible positions including the one he has recently vacated. In one of his main sports, cricket, he was already in international competition at the early age of 17. He was a permanent feature in the inter-colonial games against Ghana, Sierra - Leone and Nigeria. Abou captained in 1976 the Gambian team that played the famous Marylebone County Cricket Club from England in an unusual challenge match that was tightly fought with a respectable display of tactical formations and strong performance. He was a founder member of Worcester and Nyaato cricket clubs respectively, both of which he captained at league level. He became President of the Gambia Cricket Association in the early 80's at a time that he was also a founder member of the West Africa Cricket Conference comprising Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria and The Gambia. He was to be shortly elected President of that prestigious sub-regional sporting body, and represented the Conference in numerous international conferences including the International Cricket Conference (ICC) in London. Away from The Gambia, he played cricket for the Rovers Sports Club in England alongside brilliant compatriots Louis 'Aggoseh' Mahoney and the late Sam Bola Mahoney. Did he win any caps, matches, trophies? Yes, countless.
His other major sport was football, which he also started playing from High School. From the Schools Selection he proceeded to the national and international arenas. He played at defence for the national team on numerous occasions in the 50's and early 60's. His most challenging, instructive and memorable matches were played against Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Academicals of Portugal, all very formidable teams at the time. His league team was White Phantoms, a formidable 1st Division team in the 50's and 60's, great rivals mainly of Augustinians FC and Gambia United. He played in the same team as football legends: goalkeeper Amou Taal, the agile forward Eku Forbes, and master- defender Ebou Mass Taal. One of his greatest supporters was a young boy called Birri Njie who used to carry Abou's football boots and sports bags before he himself became a famous football hero of The Gambia. Abou won many victories and many medals in football also, especially with his famous league team, White Phantoms FC. I don't know if Abou has been saving all of his awards, but I hope he has; at least for the inspiration of others including his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Abou's distinguished sporting career also cut into other sporting disciplines such as athletics, lawn tennis, table tennis, among others, but time and space will not allow for further narrative. Suffice it to say he excelled in all of them. Our paths rarely crossed in sports though we eventually played a little lawn tennis together. But in fact when he played league and national football, I was playing Junior Tennis; when he switched to international cricket in the 60's, I had switched to league and national football; we both played national table tennis championships but not in the same period. It was in the 80's that Abou and I finally became steadfast members of the same team; and that was in the field of sports administration. We had both retired from active competition, and first served in the Tennis Association where he was 1st Vice President to the legendary sports genius and administrator, the late B.O. Semega-Janneh. I was my humble self then serving as Secretary-General. He served as Vice-President for 8 years, two terms of four years, by the end of which he had commenced and already quite busy in managing the affairs of the GNOC. He joined the GNOC on the ticket of the Gambia Tennis Association, as all GNOC members have to belong to a registered, properly constituted, sports association or federation. Our paths then had to cross again a second time because apart from tennis, I was already serving in the GNOC and mainly responsible for Mr. Njie agreeing to come over to GNOC on a presidential nomination from Tennis. I must say that convincing Mr Dandeh Njie over to GNOC was the most important thing I have done for sports in The Gambia, never mind my own top participation on various national teams and administrations. At first it wasn't easy talking Mr. Njie to come out to lead the GNOC. That was because he was very tied-up with his flourishing business enterprise on Buckle Street. With the support of almost 20 sporting associations at the time, I persisted and finally brought Abou Dandeh over to head our National Olympic Committee. He was made president unopposed, in 1989. The organization at that time was called GNOC, the same way he found it. After a protracted ideological battle between the Ministry and the GNOC, the name was changed to GNOSC following the establishment of a separate Ministry of Youth and Sports in 1992. Ten years later in 2002 after the National Sports Council was created, the name of the organisation reverted to GNOC and has stayed that way to the present. During all of this period, Mr. Dandeh Njie demonstrated the highest dedication, commitment, proficiency and efficiency to the running of the GNOC. He has achieved remarkable institutional growth streamlining the Bureau for peak performance, securing effective female representation in the administration as manifested in Vice-President Beatrice Allen of GNOC and IOC, and securing important positions in international organisations especially within the IOC (international Olympic Committee) family. Under his leadership the GNOC has also launched many initiatives and projects. These include the May Day Sports, the annual Sports Banquet and Awards Ceremony, sports for the Disabled, Sports scholarships abroad, and technical and administrative courses at home. Infrastructural development has been very visible and impressive. These include the magnificent ResourceCenter on the Bakau Coastal Highway, construction of multipurpose Sports Centres across the country, and efficient serviceable administrative facilities such as website and adequate computerized systems. Regarding influence and profile, the GNOC commands high respect in the Olympic Movement, unanimously selected as the headquarters of the Association of National Olympic Committee of Africa (ANOCA) of which Mr. Dandeh Njie is president. The GNOC has also hosted some of the very prestigious conferences of sports including the ANOCA General Assembly in 2003, the ZANOCA Games and General Assembly in 1998, the Commonwealth Games Federation General Assembly in 2008, among others.
Everything said and done, I wish to thank Mr. Dandeh Njie for agreeing to serve on the GNOC, for proving his proficiency and dedication beyond all reasonable doubt; for all the good he has done for Gambian sports, as a player and administrator and for the many successes and the dignity he has brought to Olympism and the Olympic Movement nationally and internationally.