Media reports of stealing, begging and trying to sell Namibian t-shirts broke shortly after Namibia's Commonwealth Games team arrived back in the country. The team could only win two medals with boxer Japhet Uutoni winning gold in the light flyweight category, while shottist Friedhelm Sack won bronze in the 50m air pistol event.
President Pohamba postponed the customary reception for the medal winners and ordered an inquest into the ordeal.
Namibia Sport spoke to Joan Smit, Chef de Mission of Namibia's Commonwealth Games team after the teamâ??s return. Smit was not very happy with the media reports and stated in no uncertain terms that the reports were devoid of all truth.
â??Regarding the t-shirts, nobody will sell a normal t-shirt for Aus $500. This just sounds ridiculous. What is tragic is that our media chooses to concentrate on the ugly and not on the good that happened there,â? the former national netball player said.
The Afrikaans daily, Die Republikein quoted Ambrosius Kandjii, team manager of the boxing team, as having said that the entire furore was merely a misunderstanding about which items team members were allowed to take from their hotel rooms as mementos. He added that the misunderstanding was sorted out during a routine investigation. Kandjii blamed over-eager journalists and unpatriotic elements who wanted to tarnish Namibiaâ??s name.
Cory Ihuhua, sports journalist of the Namibian newspaper, who broke the story said that when journalists receive information like that they verify the facts and seek answers. â??That is what we did and we got answers,â? he said.
A storm in a teacup
Smit said she was very sad that some people wanted to ruin a very good tour.
â??Two or three days before the end of the tour one of the volunteers asked me if they could approach the athletes to sell their sports clothes because she wanted it for her church people. They were crazy about the Namibians.
Alna Similo, the team manager and I got together and discussed the matter. We agreed to the request because it is general practise at any international sports competition that athletes swap clothes.
We decided that the presidential tracksuit, one of the Namibian t-shirts and the sweatshirts should not be sold so that we can fly home with it, to arrive as a team. But we said they could swap their other items and if a volunteer wanted to give them something we didnâ??t have a problem with that.
The volunteers did not want everything for free. Their reasoning was that athletes could buy something for themselves with that money in Australia. If you take the exchange rate into consideration, then it definitely helped some of the athletes who had little pocket money. These transactions only took place on the Monday after the closing ceremony. Many athletes, white, black or brown brought clothes to the office to swap or even to donate and for some of the items the volunteers would just put a fee in the athletes' hands and I did not see any problem with that. The Canadian team, who stayed close to us had an entire sale - a total sale of the stuff they had left,â? says Smit.
She also brushed aside allegations of theft and said that she was the person responsible for signing for and handing back all linen, furniture and material used by the team.
â??I can tell you now with an open conscience that nothing was stolen. We could all take our duvets along as a Commonwealth souvenir. I already knew that before leaving for Melbourne and told the team managers to tell the athletes that they to keep space in their luggage for these duvets. And that is exactly what happened.â?
Namibiaâ??s inventory praised
She continues to explain, â??In all bathrooms were small containers with shower gel, and if someone took that along it wasnâ??t a problem. The Commonwealth auxiliary also said that athletes could take those smaller things because they could not hold on to them. I must also mention that, after I completed the inventory, Melbourne 2006 congratulated the Namibian team on the manner in which we kept an inventory and the way we looked after our things. They also mentioned that of all the countries they checked, Namibia's inventory went the smoothest. Namibia was one of the last countries that moved out. The Commonwealth retained some of the travel grants in case some things disappeared, got stolen or broken, but in our case it did not happen.â?
The number of officials
Namibian sport teams that travel abroad are often criticised that they take as many officials to these international competitions as athletes. Smit said that this yearâ??s delegation did not exceed the prescribed number of officials.
â??The Commonwealth has a set format that says how many officials, comparing with the athletes, should go and we kept to it strictly. So much so that the evening that I registered our delegation, I realised that we could still have brought two more officials along. But that was not necessary because the lady that went along as the swimming coach also doubled up as a team manager.â?
Regarding the spirit in the Namibian camp, Smit said everything went very well.
â??Everyone gave their cooperation and all the athletes supported each other. If there were racial tensions I was not aware of it,â? she said.
Highs and lows
What would definitely be described as a major disappointment was the fact that marathon hopeful Beatha Naigambo collapsed during the race after she started well. Smit said that Naigambo got a black-out shortly after the 15km mark.
â??She was immediately taken to hospital and I went with her. The first thing she asked was â??is the race finished, where did I finish?"
Smit said that an Australian doctor diagnosed an iron deficiency in her body. Her blood pressure dropped because of the iron deficiency and caused the black-out.
â??She cried profusely. It took a bit of time to comfort and console her and I told her that she will get another chance and that everything would be fine. Luckily Agnes Tjongarero was there. Agnes visited her in hospital and had a good talk with her.â?
Sackâ??s medal ceremony
Smit said that the highlight of the tour was definitely the two medals. She said she made it just in time for the medal ceremony of Friedhelm Sack after a mad rush to the venue. â??Boellie Malherbe sent me an SMS, saying that Friedhelm had won a bronze medal. He said the medal ceremony was in half an hourâ??s time. Luckily the transport system was excellent and I managed to get there in time. Itâ??s just an amazing feeling when one of your compatriots is standing there on a podium while the Namibian flag is hoisted,â? Smit said with tears in her eyes.
Uutoniâ??s amazing triumph
She became even more emotional while recounting the triumph of Jafet Uutoni and asked why the media did not focus on his fantastic triumph against all the odds.
â??Jafet's thumb was dislocated before he boxed in the semifinal. In the semi he tried to protect it by using his left hand more and that night his hands were swollen terribly. I was very worried, but luckily we had a full-time physio who treated his hands, while the polyclinic was tremendously well-equipped with the best medicine and staff.
The day before the final the physio and I realised that a doctor would have to take a look at his hands. A surgeon said that the two bones were completely apart. His hands were very painful, but he could still box and the doctor said he would have to operate on them immediately after the fight.
I could see that Jafet was in terrible pain and I tried to encourage him and cheer him up. At the fight they strapped his hands well, but when he came out for the first round I could already see the pain in his eyes. Fifty Namibians sat in an auditorium with 2 500 other people and we were screaming encouragement at the top of our voices
I realised that we could have withdrawn him, but he had come so far to make it to the final that there was no way we could have withdrawn him and we just had to encourage him through the fight.
I handed out little Namibian flags to everyone. He lost the first round by 8 points to 4. I could see that he was in pain. I looked at him and screamed to him in Afrikaans that he must hit the Englishman and hit him down. The medal is yours. From there on we carried him through the fight and screamed flat out for him.
He came out in the second round and started to fight really well. When he was announced as the winner I sat back, exhausted. As fate would have it, Agnes Tjongarero was supposed to do the medal presentation on that occasion. I stood to attention as the Namibian flag got hoisted and the anthem played. We sang in full voice and when we had finished I had tears in my eyes thinking about this younmg kid who had sacrificed everything and he had finally made it.
We went back to our athleteâ??s village and Jafet came, very humble, with his medal. I looked at his hands and I could see that they were really hurting. I told him â??you have a lot of pain,â?? but he just laughed.
The next day the surgeons performed the operation free of charge and Melbourne 2006 paid for the private hospital for which we are very grateful,â? Smit said.
Allowances, exchange rates and participation
Smit said that athletes received about N$2 000 each (per day??) as pocket money.
â??I spoke to some bowlers from New Zealand who said that they received NZ$2 000 per day to participate. And they did not even do that well!â? (The exchange rate between the N$ and Aus$ is normally around N$5,5 to Aus $1.
On a question about whether a lack of money might have a negative influence on an athleteâ??s performance, Smit said that Namibian sports people were used to receiving little and that they showed an appreciation for what they got.
Namibia Sport asked Smit to give an honest opinion about the problems that the Namibian team faced.
She said Namibiaâ??s main problem was the lack of international participation and coaching, while she also called on sport administrators to work in the interest of sport and not for self-gain.
â??I think we have administrators who are not there for the right reasons. If we can get former sportsmen and women involved, who have their heart and souls in sport, then I think we can go much further.