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Pap Saine Pays Tribute to Gambian Journalists

Jan 9, 2009, 5:54 AM

The veteran journalist and managing director of The Point Newspaper, Mr. Pap Saine, has said that if it were not for journalists and the media fraternity, the rapid advancement of sports in this country would most definitely not have been possible let alone impactful. Mr. Saine, who is Reuters Dean of West and Central Africa, made this statement while delivering a paper on the history of Gambian sports and sports journalism at a three-day training course for sports journalists organised by the Media Agenda at The Gambia Press Union office in Bakau Newtown.

Below is the full text of Mr. Saine's presentation

Mr. Chairman/Moderator

Madam President of The Gambia Press Union, Ndey Tapha Sosseh, Director, Media Agenda

My Dear Colleagues in the field of Journalism

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is in fact a daunting task to talk about this vast world of Sports, which as everyone appreciates, makes one of the greatest impacts on the lives of people and the community at large and which also cuts across a very wide range of disciplines. Nevertheless, Mr. Chairman, I feel greatly honoured at the same time that I have been asked to speak on the subject especially as it relates to sports journalists of this country. I happen to love sports and I happen to love journalism, so what a happy convergence of interests!

Mr. Chairman, Sports in The Gambia has grown from strength to strength starting more impactfully as far as I can remember, from the late '40's: What some have called the glorious days of sports. In that period, really, a sport was done for fun with no prospect of financial gain or remuneration of any kind. One did sports out of love and in the interest of the nation. Sports therefore developed as a genuine interest on the part of sports persons and spectators alike, as there was nothing to show but the greatest determination, commitment, skills and enormous pride of involvement. The period under discussion featured only a few active sports including in order of interest and participation: Wrestling, athletics, football, cricket and lawn tennis. These were the prominent sports of the time, in the '40's and early '50's. Wrestling generated so much interest it attracted the love and patronage of the governor (Governor Blood). As a consequence, the major wrestling contests were held at the old 'Secretariat', part of the present quadrangle now occupied by Accountant General's and Audit departments. Partly because of keen contests and partly perhaps because of the involvement of the governor, the sport received high patronage and sponsorship, as well-known figures in the business community kindled interest with financial incentives and awards. The competitions were keen to the point of spectators putting down wagers, which caused more excitement and popular interest. Competitions were so keen, great champions convened from all over the country and also from Casamance and Guinea-Bissau.

Apart from famous wrestlers from Niumi, we also had some from distant Niamina, Jola champions from the Foni's and Casamance and Balantas from Bissau. Of the local champions, the likes of Burawureng dominated the sport. The Balanta star was Dusuba, a tall giant who relied more on strength than tactics. Of course from Casamance, the hero was the Jola champion ('Mborr') Dodou, who provided exciting bouts against Dusuba.

Interest in wrestling has continued to this very day with new venues 'Lamba' sprouting everywhere, first at Box Bar and then subsequently various locations in the Kombos. One of the greatest local patrons of the sport was the late Shyben A. Madi in whose memory, the Department of Youth and Sports has very fittingly named the arena at the Independence Stadium thanks to his son George Madi for continuing to support wrestling. Wrestling now has an Association with both local and international events co-ordinated by an active executive spearheaded by Musa Babanding Ceesay and Abdou Shyllon who took great interest in the sport in the 1950's as an arena police officer to control crowds. At the technical and organisational level are former champion Matarr Jarju and their current Secretary.

While in fact wrestling was the most popular in the early years of sports in this country, other sports, though not as widely famous, were organised occasionally for special enthusiasts. Football was one of them. They developed to an association in 1952. Its first president was Justice Sam Foster. B.O. Semega Janneh popularly known as B.O. was its second president. It is after him the GNOC has appropriately dedicated a famous sports hall at Serrekunda East Mini Stadium. Football organisations went through turbulent times, sometimes leading to angry demonstrations to fire its entire Executive. However, B.O. and his committee did hold together to produce 15 good years of service to football and football development in this country.. The formative teams were Augustinians, Gambia United, Dingareh and later Phantons, Black Diamonds, Sterling and Adonis. Of course we all know football is always a turbulent area, on the field and also at administrative and club levels. Yet the sport lives on, and now happens to be, unlike the more popular years of wrestling in the 40's and 50's, clearly the biggest sport in The Gambia, carrying nothing less than 20 league teams and a big collection of Nawettan and regional teams. Not only that, but it also is the most lucrative of sports. Thanks to later presidents like O.B. Fisco Conateh whose name is a household name in football development in this country, both in national and international and sub-regional participation.  I cannot forget some FA Presidents like Dr Ebrima Samba, Tapha Ngum, Babou Cisse, B.O. Fofana, A.O.G. Gabbie Sosseh, George Gomez, Omar Sey, M.C. Cham, Ousman Sillah, Late Njanko Tabanjang and current president Seedy M. Kinteh for their key role in promoting football.

The development and impact of football, Mr. Chairman, speaks volumes for itself so I need not make any comments on that score.

But I would like to just round up by stating that athletics and lawn tennis were also each growing sports in the '40's and have come a long way to still feature in our present day sports calendar. International tennis tournaments were held regularly in conjunction with cricket on an annual basis of return matches against Sierra-Leone. These matches were called 'Intercol' meaning inter-colonial. The tournaments later included Guinea Bissau in the 1950's under the management of Carlos Oliviera, alias Nuna or 'Man of the Moment'. At the national level yearly tournaments, called 'All-Comers' tournament, attracted rivals; Gambia Tennis Club, Bathurst Tennis Club (comprising European nationals), Good Companions Club, UAC Tennis Club and the Coalition Club of Crystal, Aston, and Indomitable using the acronym CAI (translating 'welcome' in wolof).

One unfortunate fact about tennis development, however, is the disappearance of its infrastructures. While sports like football are gaining more and more grounds, tennis has lost most of its courts to urban developers. The

Garrison Court
formerly used by the Good Champions Club headed by Dr. Carrol of
Hagan street
and other Community leaders, has now given way to the new quadrangle building that houses State Departments of Youth and Sports, Local Government and Tourism respectively. The popular UAC tennis club is now taken by the Apollo Hotel in Banjul. The European club has given way to the National Assembly building and the
Manneh Sillah Memorial Basketball Court
, also in Banjul. The European Club has been re-housed however in new premises now called Fajara Club. Presently occupying the CAI club court is the new High Court and Judicial Department on
Independence Drive
. Prominent members of the CAI club were A.J Senghore, P.S. Njie, and Beran Joof, all of them former great promoters and patrons of the sport. It is encouraging however that under the leadership of another prominent Sportsman, Mr. Charles Sarr Thomas, tennis is still flourishing at the Independence Stadium and Banjul Tennis Club. With his initiative, Gambia Tennis Association is now also an active member of the African Tennis Confederation (CAT) and International Tennis Federation (ITF), and competes in international championships on a regular annual basis to this very day. Furthermore, tennis has become the first association to own its own land, which is currently under slow but sure development. Also worthy of great mention is The Gambia Athletics Association which has sailed through the 40's to this very moment, and increasingly has become the permanent champion of the Sub-region, capturing gold in large numbers and constantly lifting the championship trophy and numerous medals. People who know about athletics and their association would unhesitatingly attribute most of this success to the dynamic, energetic and passionate commitment of Dodou Joof 'Cappie', the association's Secretary General and himself a sprinting Gambian legend.

Regarding the history of sports administration, we have no better place to start than the Ministry of Sports. An agency of the Gambian government, it was once attached to the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, was formally restructured, de-linked in 1992 to allow for the establishment of an independent Ministry of Youth and Sports. Government policy was to give greater importance to the strategic and individual development of youth and sports in the country. The new Ministry was to henceforth design its own policies and implement its own programmes. However, even though its structure was public in orientation and substance, its mandate was often imposing and its decisions generally unilateral and non-inclusive of the public and the organisations it was established to serve. Results were therefore generally weak. Therefore in 1999, government policy changed again to transfer sports ownership rightly into the hands of its proper stakeholders, namely the private sector. The implementation of this policy produced the present National Sports Council operating now from 2000 to the present, under an intended independent council of private sector individuals and served by an Executive Secretariat. It was the intention, at least at the conceptual and design stages, to have the private sector take charge of directing and developing sports, and government acting as lead co-ordinators and facilitators. The experiment is still going on; and I am made to understand that a conference of stakeholders is being contemplated by government for due evaluation and possible re-direction of policy. Another umbrella organisation that has worked in collaboration with the National Sports Council is The Gambia National Olympic Committee.

This latter organisation has been very instrumental in our sports promotion, working with sporting associations for their material, administrative, and technical development. The GNOC is a body affiliated to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) whose technical funding agency provides assistance and support to national associations through them. Some of their main successes reported include the Olympic Africa project, development of sports infrastructure under SIIP project, Sports financing, and the popular all - inclusive mass sports, the May Day Sports and Awards Banquet. Some of its members hold influential positions in the IOC. I cannot talk about sports without mentioning cricket in the '60's with great Gambian players like OB Conateh, Abou Dandeh Njie, Ebou Taal, Eugene Decker, late Johny Johnson, late Dan Mahoney, late Sam Roberts and Solomon Gomez who is presently in the USA. Also worth mentioning is Dawda Jagne and Taphan Kah who used to play with Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria in a quadrangular tournament which should be revived to an annual event through rotation.

But the story of sports, Mr. Chairman, cannot be complete without mention of sports journalism and role of sports journalists in the development effort. This will be a 'mention' as I said; anything more could be viewed as blowing our own trumpets. The contribution of sports journalists to sports promotion and development started with the electronic media in the '70's. Not only were sports programmes broadcast, but sports commentators also took the airwaves especially for commentary of major football matches. Pioneers of those days include commentators such as Sidi Jammeh, Saul Njie, Dupeh Joiner, and my humble self. These have later passed the batons on to present - day moguls like Peter Gomez of West Coast Radio, Moses Ndenne of City Limits Radio, Benjamin Wally Joof and other leading radio journalists and sportscasters. Football commentators started with Radio Gambia under the direction of expatriate staff member Mr. Don Diment of then Cable and Wireless located on

Telegraph Road
. The first major Radio Gambia commentary was for the final on 30th November 1969 between Real de Banjul FC and White  Phantoms FC, which went 4-3 in favor of Real FC. Sandigi Njie, Silas Jones and Sidi Jammeh assisted Don Diment in the commentary. In 1970 at Box Bar Stadium, Sidi Jammeh emerged as the leading commentator. When he left for America, Saul Njie took over the lead commentary. I was myself asked by Mansour Njie to attempt a brief summary of proceedings in Wollof, which I did, thankfully to the appreciation and benefit of our non-English listeners. The pattern of local language commentary stayed on, and used to this day. Our first overseas radio coverage was from Liberia on 4th February 1979 when Gambia lost the Tolbert trophy 0-1 to Liberia. Saul Njie and myself covered the match. After Saul Njie traveled in the 80's, Bora Mboge took over in collaboration with Peter Gomez and Malick Jones, Remi Joiner of Trust Bank as commentators. Then followed Lamin Cham, Essa Jallow, Lamin Jaiteh, Moses Ndene, Benjamin Wally Joof, Bakary Baldeh, Dodou Bojang and Pa Modou Faal of GRTS and Ndey Busso of Today among others.

Following on the heels of radio broadcast has been the print media. This has been the more effective medium so far, as sports programmes and actions are regularly reported and maintained on the ever-popular sports pages of our local papers. Dupeh Joiner started installments in The Gambia News Bulletin. The late MD Njie covered cricket and golf in that same paper. Later in 1983-1985, sports articles were featured in the Senegambia Sun newspaper by Charles Sarr Thomas and myself again. While Thomas also used the Daily Observer sports column and the Gambia Daily. I stretched the other way to The Gambian, The Gambia Daily, Topic Magazine and later The Point. Alongside, I was also covering the African Cup of Nations (1978-2004), and the World Cup matches on three occasions. I was made member of the Press Committee of CAF and also Press Officer in 2000 in Nigeria. The Independent Sports column was headed by Namory Trawally who later headed The Point and then Football Digest. Trawally also has covered football matches and talks at West Coast radio. He was also a columnist with the Citizen paper and had a talk show on Citizen FM radio before they were both closed. Pa Modou Faal also played a great part writing for Daily Observer, Sportlight, and The Point. When The Point started in 1991, some of the outstanding pioneers in sports writing were Lamin Ceesay, Lamin Conteh, Yusupha Cham, Dawda Khan and Yusupha Chorr, Soury Camera of The Point and Baboucarr Senghore of GRTS. As we are all no doubt aware, Sainabou Kujabi became Sports Editor at The Point in 2008, and the first woman to hold that tittle in The Gambia. She was also a reporter for Daily Observer and Sportlight. Maintaining the momentum at Foroyaa is Modou Nyang and Nanama Keita at the Daily Observer. Sports writers do abound in this country and many of them very active and enthusiastic indeed. Some of the ardent proponents, however, belong to the Sports Journalists Association formed in 1998 to harness expertise, energy and direction for the effective promotion of sports in this country. The only problem is the criticism often leveled against us by the general sporting fraternity that sports journalism amounts to one-sport coverage, that is football.

True as this may sound, efforts have however been made to cover all sports. But this objective has its constraints also, namely, manpower and at times material or technical inadequacies. We need more sports journalists to share the vast area of sports and to develop specialisation in the respective disciplines. We need materials and facilities including recorders, cameras, print material and computers to enable us carry out our work very professionally and cover all sports adequately. In that pursuit, the Sports Journalists Association has even earlier this year organised a thematic Workshop at Independence Stadium designed to address these same issues. Ladies and Gentlemen, it will be appreciated that the task is onerous, but the effort is still continuing notwithstanding.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me end by advancing the claim, and legitimately I trust, that if it were not for Journalists and the media fraternity, the rapid advancement of sports in this country would most definitely not have been possible let alone impactful. On that note, permit me Ladies and Gentlemen to take my seat while expressing profound gratitude to NATCOM for sponsoring this important course, and to all sports journalists in this country particularly the Sports Journalists Association for their visible contribution to Sports, and finally to Media Agenda for organising this course and inviting my contribution.


Thank You.