WINDHOEK – The Namibia Sports Commission (NSC), in the past labelled a toothless bulldog for failure to act on pressing matters with the required tenacity, this week finally displayed its might and valor when it summoned the leadership of the Namibia Hockey Union (NHU) to address alleged racial discrimination against 14-year-old national team player Liya Herunga.
Namibians from all walks of life and the local media fraternity recently sent social media into a frenzy when news broke that national hockey coach Maryke Short had allegedly systematically and racially discriminated against Liya when selection for the touring national U/16 team was done.
The seemingly awakened NSC, now headed by the competent and vibrant Fred Simataa Mwiya, who on Monday summoned the NHU leadership and also invited local legal practitioner Ruth Herunga, who is Liya’s mother, to an urgent meeting to look into the grim racial allegations levelled against Short and the NHU.
A team of two officials tasked by the NSC to investigate racism, tribalism and discrimination in Namibian sport was also in attendance, as well as Konrad Wessels who is NHU vice-president and head of the Coaches and Team Selection Committee of the NHU.
Through thorough cross-questioning and persistent interrogation, the Commission established that indeed the young Liya, many a time the only black player on junior national team lists, was originally selected to the national team but strangely, without explanation, was later excluded by coach Short from the national U/16 team that was to tour Zimbabwe and replaced with another player, a white.
According to a statement released by the NSC yesterday, in a similar matter the NSC also further established during Monday’s meeting that during a recent Namibia Schools Sport Union (NSSU) tour to Bloemfontein, South Africa, the highly rated young Liya was exposed to the same gross treatment from Short, who did not accord Liya any game time during the Bloemfontein tour, despite the youngster being an outstanding performer at national junior level.
Liya registered her unhappiness with the NSSU with regard to the treatment she received from coach Short while on tour in Bloemfontein. After hearing Liya’s grievances, the NSSU leadership wasted little time in dealing with the matter and summarily removed Short from all coaching duties within NSSU structures.
Taking into account the Bloemfontein drama and coupled with the recent debacle of the upcoming Zimbabwe tour, the NSC yesterday announced that it had uncompromisingly instructed the NHU to immediately and effectively remove Short as national head coach and in the interim appoint well-experienced national senior team skipper Maggie Mengo as head coach for the Zimbabwe tour.
Monday’s meeting also resolved that Liya be reinstalled in the touring U/16 national team and that in consultations with their Zimbabwean counterparts the tour dates be postponed until November, with the aim of according all parties adequate time to thoroughly put the issue to rest.
It was also resolved at the meeting that the hockey union do proper reference checks and balances when recruiting national team coaches as the NHU will be held accountable for the actions of whoever they employ to represent the country.
The NHU promised to establish a task team to further investigate the matter and thereafter submit a comprehensive report to the NHU leadership. The union will then also report to the NSC on their findings and the way forward.
MTC blasts Short and NHU for alleged racism in hockey
Local telecommunications giant MTC, which remains Namibia’s biggest sports and entertainment sponsor, yesterday also joined the NSC in strongly condemning the alleged racial and systematic discrimination carried out against Liya.
MTC spokesperson Tim Ekandjo, who expressed anger and disappointment, said sports administrators who harbour racist ideals have allowed, supported and promoted boldfaced discrimination to the detriment of sports development in independent Namibia.
“They cannot be allowed to get away with it any longer. Racism in sports is sad and our authorities have relegated themselves to toothless bystanders. Although MTC does not sponsor hockey, we will not sit idle and allow racism to flourish. We call for the reinstatement of Liya with immediate effect and for administrators, who are not in sports for the right reasons, to step aside,” said a fuming Ekandjo.
A few years ago, MTC pulled the plug on its sponsorship of Cricket Namibia after allegations of racism were levelled against cricket’s management. MTC afforded Cricket Namibia an opportunity to redeem themselves by implementing a quota system that will allow talented black players to be integrated into the team over a period of time, but Cricket Namibia failed to do so and MTC withdrew its sponsorship.