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Like most citizens in our soccer-crazy nation, I watched the match between Zambia and Equatorial Guinea a few days ago. Each spectator, both at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka and in front of television sets at homes, had specific things they saw in the players. I saw quite a few pleasing things and many more issues that are a source of grave concern. As I watched our team, I noted we had selected boys that are physically less fit than their peers; as they played, I noticed a lack of adequate teamwork; as individual players took free kicks and corner kicks, I noticed a lack of sufficient analysis nor critical thinking; as time lapsed, I noticed the rising of tension and inadequacies in managing the pressure and psychological failure to score; judging by the number of fouls, I inferred, the boys had problems in following rules and regulations; finally, following a failure to qualify for the World Cup, I noticed an outbreak of fury and cyberbullying by fans targeting FAZ executive members, particularly President Anndrew Kamanga.

In attempting to deepen my understanding of what I had observed on this pitch and in the media in regard to the behavior of players and other stakeholders, I decided to undertake an extensive literature review on sports, particularly the purpose of sports on citizens and the significance of sports development in human society. Following a detailed review of literature on sports from many jurisdictions, particularly countries that have exhibited superior performance in sports competitions – FIFA soccer tournaments, Olympics, WTA tennis grand slams and golf – it appears all human communities are involved in organized sports. The principal purpose why countries organize and teach sports, particularly to children, is to help create a society of good citizens. Most sports involve an element of physical education, which is important to help participants become physically and mentally fit. The multiplicity of rigors and rules in sports helps participants, especially children, to learn how to be disciplined citizens that are able to follow rules. The calculations and analysis that participants undertake in planning how to score help develop the brain in critical thinking and other analytical skills. The fact that most games are played in teams helps participants, particularly children, to learn the vital life skills of teamwork and sportsmanship, two traits that involve empathy towards opponents and sympathy towards teammates. There are occasional losses in sports; enduring losses makes participants acquire skills for managing frustrations in life.

All in all, it appears that the sports field is a school that trains people to become good citizens. If you look at the basketball player Michael Jordan, the footballer Christian Ronaldo, the golfing legend Tiger Woods or the tennis star Arthur Ash; you see good and successful citizens. All had excellent physical and mental health; all were successful business persons or citizens of their countries; all were team players; all were disciplined citizens of their communities; all demonstrated exceptional analytical skills and critical thinking abilities; and all had exceptional resilience and ability to manage failure or frustrations. Looking at one specific successful sportsman in Zambia, Kalusha Bwalya, one notices his impressive physical and mental fitness, as demonstrated by consistency of thinking, memory of events, excellent communication skills and ability to speak many languages. The discipline with which he is able to work up daily to jog or the strictness of his diet, is impressive. When he played football, the analysis and critical thinking he applied to calculate how to score from any point, particularly free kicks, were always great. Finally, the ability of Kalu to manage failure, disappointment or shock was best exhibited in how he managed to recover from the devastating shock of losing teammates in 1993. It’s is safe to say that sports creates good citizens.

Looking at how other countries organize and develop sports, I discovered that successful sporting countries have invested heavily in time, resources and infrastructure for sports. An average European or Asian country has 2-4 hours per week that are compulsory for physical education from primary school to university. Further, schools and communities have sports infrastructure that is well maintained and very active. Finally, societies have organized sports for competitions and entertainments. The competitive sports, such as football have a multiplier effect on the economy in form of tourism, television rights, sale of replica jerseys, betting and support to auxiliary industries such as bars, transporters or pub owners. Sports is a major contributor to GDP.

Having learned so much about the contribution of sports to creating good citizens, a good economy and jobs, I decided to check how Zambia was doing in terms of sports organization. I am in shock to note that there is hardly any physical education being taught in the majority of schools. Sports infrastructure in most public schools is either absent or damaged. In the case of Ndola, there is probably no single public school with a functioning swimming pool or tennis court. As for the community, Ndola has had many clubs since the colonial days. Unfortunately, most are either run down or dysfunctional. The Ndola Sailing/Boating Club and Ndola Swimming Pool are almost dysfunctional. The Squash Club is a venue for matebeto restaurant and occasional madala games. There is nothing or little happening in terms of competitive games at the Tennis Club, Ndola Bowling Club or Ndola Rugby Club other than selling beer in the club house. Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola hosts occasional football matches and more of kitchen parties at weekends or graduation ceremonies for CBU. The sports facilities in other Copperbelt towns like Mufulira, Chingola, Mufulira and Luanshya are equally abandoned. The old recreational centre and golf club in Luanshya are in ruins.

The consequences of the absence of organized sports in Zambia are obvious: unfit citizens; indisciplined people; intolerance, absence of team work, lack of respect for rules and failure to manage frustrations.

It’s not possible to have a good harvest if there was no good planting. Zambia’s abysmal results in soccer are a harvest, while the absence of sports in our communities is planting.

The results we are seeing are consistent with the level of sports activity in our communities, especially schools. Leadership and organization will be required if we are to expect any better results in all sports, not only soccer in future. How do you expect results in swimming when schools have stolen pumps or buried the swimming pool? How do you expect results in soccer if the only activity happening at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium are kitchen parties and weddings? How do you expect results from Munali when the someone has built a fuel station at the site of a sports pitch?

Even the AFCON 2012 win was just a coincidence. It had nothing much to do with talent or good coaching or good administration. It was just like a win in a casino, a coincidence or act of luck.

The Government of Zambia has always realized the importance of sports in national development. To this effect, sports has always had a government department or ministry, under a Cabinet Minister. Unfortunately, the ministry doesn’t appear to fully understand its primary role and responsibility of using and developing sports as a means to build good citizens and a good economy. Instead of focusing on developing sports, successful Ministers have been busy fighting petty wars and inflaming the cyberbullying of FAZ executives or coaches. No, honourable Minister! Stay away from FAZ and go develop sports in the country. In the absence of sports in schools and lack of seriousness with sports infrastructure, Zambia will never develop serious sportspersons that will bring trophies. Can someone give that ministry a job description, please!

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