Swazi Athletes Struggle to Prepare for Olympic Games

    Sprinters during practice for the Olympics in Swaziland, July 2012 (Emilie Iob/VOA)
    Sprinters during practice for the Olympics in Swaziland, July 2012 (Emilie Iob/VOA)
    MANZINI, Swaziland — Like others around the world, Olympic athletes in Swaziland are intensely preparing to compete in London, but in a tiny country with little infrastructure and a small budget developing their skills is a daily challenge. 

    After a few seconds of rush, a practice sprint is over.

    As Sibusiso Matsenjwa gets his breath back by the side of the track in the Swazi city of Manzini, the sprinter hopes his coach timed him accurately with his watch.  The stadium has no electronic timer and this young man is under pressure.  He is one of the three athletes who will be representing Swaziland at the London Olympic Games.  He will run the 200-meter race.

    But the athlete, 24, says it is not easy to find motivation to train in this country. “It is very difficult," admitted Matsenjwa.  "You have to have a self-discipline.  In Swaziland, even if you are the best athlete, there is no competition.  A lot of people do not come and watch or support you in athletics.  That is the difficult part, there is no motivation.”

    In the little kingdom, one of the poorest countries in the world, sports equipment is scarce.  Fellow Olympic team member, runner Phumlile Ndzinisa, agrees the challenges are many.  She says until recently they had little financial support for even the basic elements to train.

    “Sometimes, when I come to the gym, I need money to join the gym," explained Ndzinisa. "Or if you have an injury, you want to be attend by a physio [trainer].  When you do not have money, you cannot go to the physio.”

    Ndzinisa, 20, has been running for six years.  She comes from a small village in the mountains.  Her coach, Muzi Mabuza, says the fact the talented sprinter even got spotted is a miracle.

    “Because I was in Tshwane, I would see her running around school competitions," said the coach. "But what I saw in Pretoria [South Africa], the performance there, it got me to say, 'OK, she has quite a potential, she can do better only if she can be in some kind of systematic training and a better environment.”

    Mabuza says he convinced the girl's parents to let her come to Manzini, and she and Matsenjwa started to train under Mabuza's supervision.  

    As their performances started to improve, the team got a bit of help from benefactors, and, later some funding from the government and the Olympic Association. It was enough to start sending the athletes to some competitions overseas.

    Matenjwa remembers the first time he flew on a plane was to compete at the 2009 world championships in Berlin, Germany. “I had no shoes," he said. "Somebody borrowed me the shoes to go there and run.”

    It was a small start, but a start nonetheless.  Swaziland National Olympic Committee Secretary-General Muriel Hofer says her country will need more time to properly train their athletes for the highest level of competition.

    “It takes a minimum of 14 years to develop an athlete at this high level," she said. "And of course it is a very costly exercise, in the region of approximately $350,000 per year, just to train one athlete.  So it is not the facility that is really the problem.  But it is the coaching program that you have, and of course, recognizing that a sport is a platform that can empower your communities and it brings a lot to the economic stages of a country.”

    But Hofer says she is hopeful.  The government now appears more willing to invest in competitive sports. “We are now moving to the right direction.  What with the imminent adoption of a sport policy for our government.  I think we are on the right track” said Hofer.

    Matenjwa is also hopeful given he has a chance to compete at the highest level. “Maybe I will shine there, and get some sponsors, going overseas and promote my talent.  Maybe one day, you may never know, I will be the fastest man in the world," he said.

    As the sun sets on the Manzini stadium this day, Matenjwa and Ndzinisa keep training as hard as they can under the vigilant eyes of their coach.  Soon the eyes of the world will seem them as well.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora