Jul 18, 2013, 12:11 PM
In this edition, Pointsport has an interview with veteran sportsperson George Gomez on the development of sports in the country.
Various issues such as the way forward in Gambian sports, as well as solutions to pressing issues like funding in sports have been tackled in the interview.
George Gomez was among eight recipients of awards made last month by the Sports Journalists Association of The Gambia to people who made invaluable contributions to Gambian sport.
He has certificates in first and second level Sports Administration, diploma in Sports Management, FIFA Futuro Certificate in Sports Administration and is a Lecturer in Sports Administration courses.
He was the Executive Secretary of the Gambia National Olympic & Sports Committee from 1991 – 2004, and the first Gambian to occupy the post.
George Gomez has received several awards such as the IOC/GNOSC Award for Sports for All in 1998.
He was a Hall of Fame Awardee in 1999, received the Most Outstanding Sports Personality Award in 2002, as well as being a Singles Tennis Champion, among other achievements.
Below is the full text of the interview; please read on:
Pointsport: What do you think is the way forward for the GFA, with the problems the body is facing currently?
Gomez: Football as the biggest sport in the country needs more attention. It is my view that football can support itself. Football needs full capacity development with officers who are capable and with vision. Officers with ideas; not people who are voted in because they are friends of others.
Football needs to be reorganized first. We need to transform the league, and adopt the community system. Teams must belong to the communities so that the communities will take full responsibility and give them the support they require in terms of coming to their matches, and providing their equipment and other basic needs. Club teams can continue to operate, if they so desire, but they will play alongside the community teams, if they qualify.
Football must attempt to raise its own funds, instead of relying on Government for everything. What is stopping GFA to team up with the Car dealers e.g. S.Madi Ltd, Chellerams and TATA Motors to buy a car annually for a special prize, and to raffle the car through SMS They can partner one of the GSM operators or all of them and once a year they do a major operation to raffle a car. This can easily raise thousands of dalasis that can help with their programs.
Pointsport: What strategies can you recommend?
Gomez: The Football Association should develop a marketing plan that will include a partnership to enhance and open opportunities for our young talented footballers to play in Europe. At present the residence clause in England is not favourable for our players, but we can overcome this by looking at all options. Can we negotiate a feeder plan with teams in other European countries considering that a player can qualify to play in the premier league after a period playing in any league in Europe. Transfer fees can be very substantial and can help GFA and the teams in their operations. Negotiations can also include encouraging the clubs overseas to open academies in The Gambia.
Pointsport: What do you think should be their target?
Gomez: The National Plan for football should be to qualify a team for the 2018/19 Africa Nations Cup, and also to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games. 2020 should be the target for athletics to win a medal and for football to qualify for the Olympic Games.
We should start looking at other sports outside athletics and football for glory. We have relied on these sports for so many years, and apart from glory at the junior category within the sub region, and once at continental level, we have achieved nothing. Should we consider the martial arts sports as a possible route to success. Can we do something in boxing? Cuba may be willing to train one or two Gambian potentials. In 1997 the Isle of White sports authorities agreed to train a boxer, Sang Correa, from The Gambia in preparation for the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia. Can we look at such programs again. How about wrestling? Should we introduce Greco Roman wrestling in the army and police, and be very serious about it. Should we send a coach from the army and police overseas for a good professional training course. The East European countries and even India may be interested in a bilateral arrangement to train coaches in Greco Roman wrestling. These are issues that National Technical Committee can take up and arrange.
Pointsport: What does Sports offer a country?
Gomez: Sports is the best and quickest way to promote a country and as we are a tourist nation, we need as much publicity as we could get and only sports can get us to some places that we would not have been able to reach through the normal publicity channels. Take the U17 football tournament that was held in the Gambia. The success of the Gambian team was spoken about all over the world and written in all the major newspapers and the name of Gambia was known by everyone. Countries started to identify us and invitations to play friendly matches started coming from all corners of the globe.
? Sports has the ability to promote a nation more than any other industry.
? Sports has the ability to discipline the youth more than any other industry.
? Sports has the ability to keep people physically fit more than most industries and the fitter you are the more productive you are. Our economy needs fit workers.
? Sports has the ability to reduce the Health bill of a nation more than any other activity. A FIT AND HEALTHY PERSON DOES NOT NEED A DOCTOR.
? Sports has the ability to unite a nation more than any other industry.
With all these advantages it is necessary for more effort to be made to finance sports and I would like to propose the following::
1. A Sports Lottery should be established to sponsor sports just like in England. The National lottery in England as stated earlier is responsible for the marked improvement in the standard of the British team.
2. With Cabinet’s approval a National appeal should be made for every working person to contribute D5.00 ( Five dalasis) a month, for three years, to be deducted from salary and paid to a special fund to be controlled by the National Sports Council for the development of Sports. The idea here is simple our athletes represent each and every person living in the country and if they succeed they are doing it in the name of all of us. This can raise over 12 million dalasis over three years.
The Fund in the first year will provide the required infrastructure all around the country based on the sports disciplines identified as possible areas for us to win medals in. In the second year, we start looking at coaches and staff. Scouting of athletes must be an ongoing thing. We need to have capable and experienced people, who together with the teachers should be looking for talent at all times. Coaching proper supported by proper nutrition, medication and medics, psychotherapy etc., will start.
Pointsports: How do you think sports could be developed?
Gomez: No one can develop sports without proper financing. The financing of sports will not yield the desired results in the absence of a plan. A plan must be drawn by looking at all aspects of sports, including the basic circle of learning i.e. the school system, the infrastructure in terms of its availability, standard and distribution. The resources including the capacity available and compared to what is needed, the training facilities, the current management structure and type of sports, the probable sources of funding, the capacity of the personnel available and necessary etc. Most importantly, a National Sports Plan must contain all the international engagements that the country should participate in to make an impact, and can be funded annually.
Pointsport: What steps do you think should be taken?
Gomez: The Ministry of Youth and Sports should appoint a National Technical Committee whose role will be to look at the annual program of National Associations, and to advise which International competitions The Gambia should participate in. This will be done after a critical look at:
a) The chances of that sport to participate respectfully and win b) The overall cost of the competition, and the ability to finance it comfortably c) The contribution of the sport association to the cost of the competition d) The benefit of the competition in the promotion of the sport and The Gambia e) The social, economic and political benefitS to the country e.g. The Gambia may not be well prepared to win a medal at the Olympic Games, but their participation may benefit the Gambia politically and economically by promoting the name of the country.
The National Technical Committee (NTC) will also advise on the training needs of coaches, especially those needing training overseas and the coaches/physical education teachers in the schools. The NTC will work in close collaboration with the different coaches associations to organize workshops and seminars on sports and its development.
In the interest of sports and its development, I strongly believe that the physical education teachers should be transferred and supervised by the Ministry of Sports provided that the capacity of the Ministry is enhanced with officers who have special sports knowledge, ability and specialized.
In The Gambia, we have very talented youths who are as good as youths anywhere in the world. Following the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the Gambia National Olympic Committee signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Australian Olympic Committee to help develop athletics from the grassroots, and one Dr. Bauer was sent here to start the program. Dr. Bauer was so impressed with the talents he saw in the schools, and commented that if German youths were as talented as Gambian children, Germany would be a major force in world athletics.
Our participation within the sub region, in athletics, has also confirmed this assumption having won several medals in the youth category in our zone and in Africa, and being champions for many years from the year 1998 to 2009. What then is stopping us building and developing winning athletes at the senior level? To me, the answer is lack of finance to train both athletes and coaches and good infrastructure.
Here is a good example of the progression of countries following good planning and financing. At the Atlanta Games in 1996, Jamaica won 1 gold 3 silver and 2 bronze medals and at the Sydney Games they did not win a gold medal. This was a big failure for them, and affected their pride and tourism. Efforts were taken by the government in partnership with the private sector to plan and build capacity. A high performance training centre was built for athletes and coaches. At the Athens Games, Jamaica won 2.1.2 (2 Gold, 1 Silver 2 Bronze) medals and at Beijing they won 6.3.2 medals and in London they won 4.4.4. This showed the marked improvement and success of their training program through the high performance centre.
Let’s look at England. In 1996, the then Prime Minister of England, John Major started the National Lottery and part of the lottery funds were given to sports. In Atlanta in 1996, the year before the serious lottery money started flowing, England won a solitary gold. In Sydney, the British team won 11.10.7 medals, In Athens, they won 9.9.12, in Beijing it was 19.13.15 and in London in their home ground they had more medals than any time in a hundred years, with 29.17.19. The correlation between investment and medal plundering has tracked upward ever since.
Now to China, who wanted to use the games to boast their country’s image. In Barcelona 1992 they won 16.22.16 and in Atlanta 16.22.12. This was not good enough, because the United States and Russia were still dominating the games, winning the most medals. The Chinese Government got involved and provided centralized high performance centres with highly trained coaches and scouts moving from schools to schools identifying young talents. In Sydney, they won 28.16.15 and 32.17.14 in Athens and in Beijing in their home ground they came first winning the most medals with 51.21.28.
But the successes, and similar feats by other heavy spending countries, prompt an uncomfortable question for the Olympic movement - is money now the primary route to Olympic glory? I believe personally that without enough money being invested in sports a country will never win glory. “You do not get excellence on the cheap nor do you get all the virtuous outcomes that come from that without a long term plan and predictable levels of funding.” Nigeria spent over 20 million USD in preparation for London 2012 without winning a medal due to poor planning.
Pointsport: What do you think should be our major focus in planning this?
Gomez: WE NEED TO ESTABLISH A NURSERY SCHOOLS Athletics COMPETITION AND STRENTHEN THE PRIMARY SCHOOLS SPORTS COMPETITIONS. This should include all sports. WE NEED TO CATCH THE ATHLETES YOUNG AND START BUILDING THE TECHNICS IN THEM AT AN EARLY AGE.
The Ministry of Basic education must play a lead and important role in all this.
Our planning should include looking at the other sports and events that Gambians may have the physical body build for. In the London 2012 games one unknown Kesborn Walcott from Trinidad and Tobago won the Javelin for the first time for an African. We have a professional army and a very athletics minded Police and Immigration Department force, with people who are disciplined and physically fit. Should we try them with the Javelin or the Discus? What about the long jump? Should we concentrate training efforts on them? Should we revere in a big way the Combined Forces Athletics Championship that should include all events, even the hurdles and pole vault. These championships should also include invitation events so that the other well known athletes will participate.
After the Security Services Athletics Championship it is practical that the officers should have their annual officers fund raising gala, where they can also honour their top athletes. The funds generated from this event can be used for sports developing within the services. The more we identify and recognize our performing athletes, the more we encourage them to want to participate in programs and to excel so by this we are encouraging effort.
Pointsport: What do you have to say on Athletics?
Gomez: In Athletics we need to be very aggressive in our search for talents. We need not only to have the inter schools sports organized by the Primary and Secondary Schools Sports Associations but the National Athletics Championship organized by the Gambia Athletics Association should be well supported by the National Sports Council, and properly advertised. I am proposing another annual sports competition to be organized by the GAA together with all the Regions and the National Sports Council. This will be the National Regional Athletics Championship. Each Region will select and sponsor its team to the National Championship. The winner of this competition will win the National Flag which will be presented by the Hon. Minister of Youth and Sports or the Secretary General of the President’s Office.
Gomez: The Ministry of Youth and Sports should open negotiations through the usual bilateral arrangements to secure scholarships for athletes at the ‘Aspire Training Centre’ in Qatar. The Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence was established by an Emiri Decree, No. 16 of 2004, as an independent government-funded agency that reported directly to HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani through HH the Heir Apparent Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. This is the centre for breeding the future top athletes from the developing countries. The President has a good respectable relationship with the Arab countries, and with his support we should be able to send two athletes every year to this centre for educational and athletics training. Cuba is another country we can turn to train our jumpers and boxers.
Our National Plan for athletics should be to win a medal at the All Africa Games in 2015, The Commonwealth Games in 2018 and at the Olympic Games of 2020. This is possible, but work has to start now.
Pointsport: The National Sports Council is here to regulate the running of our sports. What is their own stake in this?
Gomez: The National Sports Council is the body responsible for Sports development, but how can sports be developed without funds.
The National Sports Council could organize an annual Teleton to appeal to the people on the TV, Radios and Newspapers to contribute to sports. To do this they will need to tell the people where the funds are going to, and who will be managing the funds.
Secondly, the NSC could team up with the Stadium Board to organize an annual fund raising dance and show to raise funds. The stadium can provide accommodation and facilities at no cost, and together they can advertise the program and share the profit.
The National Sports Council should establish an annual gala to honour current contributors to Youth and Sports Development and current National Sports practitioners. This will only be successful with the full participation of the Minister who will use his influence to seek the support of Cabinet and convince the Institutions to buy tables. This should be a high level program to which even the President should be invited as the Chief Patron of all National Sports Associations. This program can be a joint program with the National Youth Council and can raise enough funds annually for the two councils.
The National Sports Council should take the bull by the horn and organize a stakeholders conference and issues like funding, programs, management etc be discussed. The way forward in sports development should be part and parcel of that conference. Another important conference, which I think should be organized, is a Donors Conference not only targeting the local companies but the International Institutions and using good health, discipline, unemployment, tourism and the contribution of sports in all these sectors.
You were part of the initiators of the May Day Sports. How do you think this can be used to help in the development of Gambian sports?
Gomez: The establishment of the May Day Sports was my idea, and I planned and coordinated it for the first 18 years of its organization. The May Day Sports, which was started in 1991, is now too big and creating some organizational problems. The concept of the May Day Sports fits in well with the Ministry of Youth and Sports aims to encourage mass participation in sports, and using sports to keep the nation health. In the circumstances, therefore, I believe that the National Sports Council ( NSC ) should start another Mass Sports program for the Government Departments. This should either be used as part of the Independence Anniversary celebrations or organized on a Saturday in a suitable month during the Tourist season. To show the Tourist that they are welcomed in our midst the Tour Operators should be invited to register teams made up of tourist to participate in special inter tour operators’ events. This program, if it is properly planned, can be an attractive event to enhance tourism, bring greater understanding and friendship among civil servants and bring in much needed funds to the NSC.
Mass sports like the May Day Sports contribute more to promoting good health than anything else, and to bring people together to create peace and understanding and appreciation of one another.
Pointsport: How can National Associations be assisted?
Gomez: National Sports Associations should be twinned with companies. The Sports Council should initiate a twinning program and marry every sports association with one company that will work with the association, and together they will ensure the sports programs in the year are properly carried out. Every Sports Association should have a program for the year and develop a 5-year plan. They should be assessed at the end of the 5-year plan.
The de-registered Sports Associations should be reinstated based on set criteria to be drawn by the National Sports Council. The criteria should be the basis of an assessment system.
National Sports Associations should team up with the Independence Stadium management to organize a fund raising event once a month or once a quarter around the stadium swimming pool. The event can be a disco night for their members and friends who will buy tickets and the stadium can sell drinks and snacks. The event can be a live musical band or any function that can raise funds. This should be facilitated by the National Sports Council. Gone are the days when associations should just sit and wait for handouts without making efforts to raise their own funds.
The Stadium management should landscape the pool side and make it more attractive to encourage people to want to go and socialize there.
Pointsports: What are your comments on the need for the Gambia to have an indoor facility for other sports?
Gomez: There is an urgent need for an indoor sports facility for the promotion of Basketball, Handball, Volleyball, Table Tennis, Taehwondo etc. This type of facility can be very expensive and may need a bilateral effort and land, which should not be a problem, to erect. However, in the spirit of sharing facilities and supporting each other for a successful government, the Ministry of Sport should start to negotiate with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture to build a National Cultural/Conference Centre and part of this facility should house an indoor sports facility. One of the halls in that centre can be boarded and marked for indoor sports. This will also help to encourage Sports Tourism.
Pointsport: Being our only National Facility, how do you think the Independence Stadium should be maintained?
Gomez: The Stadium management should consider building about 10 shops along the north side of the stadium wall. The annual rent from these shops can take care of at least the salaries of the staff. If the stadium is well funded they will be more sympathetic to sports associations and can partner with them on other programs. The Stadium should also develop a fund raising plan, and the recent move to offer certain parts of the perimeter wall for advertisement is a case in point. They can look at entertainment programs they can organize either in partnership or exclusively. The hotel facilities should be upgraded and marketed together with the sports facilities available.
Finally, as sports administrators we need to start thinking seriously of how we can raise funds to be able to run our affairs. We just cannot rely exclusively on Government and ticket sales. It is a known fact that ticket sales alone do not bring enough money to any sports association, including football. No team in the world, not even Manchester United nor Barcelona or Real Madrid, can survive on ticket sales without other activities like merchandizing and sponsors. With the poor attendance at matches and the weak sponsorship in this country, sports cannot survive unless more efforts in fund raising are undertaken. If we want our sports to progress, we need to stop the infighting and put our thinking caps on and start looking at programs that can raise funds to develop sports.
Pointsport: Thank you for giving us your time.
Gomez: You are most welcomed.