WH E N t h e Olympic Youth Development Cen t r e was o f f i c i a l l y opened in Lusaka, the children of the surrounding townships, including the many sports-for-development coaches and talent developers had hopes that Zambian children will now have a safe place to play and develop new skills.
When opening the place in 2010, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacque Rogge said of OYDC, â€œLike in sports, teamwork led to this success and I am confident that the centre will become not only the home of many elite regional and international athletes, but also the home of thousands of kids who will learn about sport and life and inspire us to build similar centres in other regions of the world.
Ensuring that every individual has access to sport is one of the fundamental principles of Olympism and the IOC works constantly towards making this vision a reality.â€
The Olympic Youth Development Centre in Lusaka was built as part of the Sports for Hope Programme initiated by the IOC to provide athletes, young people and communities in developing countries with better opportunities to practice sport and to be exposed to the Olympic values.
OYDC director Clement Chileshe said of OYDC during the celebrations to mark 3 years of the opening of the Centre last year that â€œSome children came here without any knowledge of the sport they are now excelling in. Seeing children showing their skills in sports like hockey, tennis, judo or swimming shows that the centre is serving its purpose.â€
However, the commercial need for the Centre to pay its bills threatens to derail the centre from the ideals and objectives set by the architects of the Centre and to erode the confidence thrust into the centre by the intended beneficiaries, the children.
Children from the surrounding areas, who were once the target of this great centre are now being discriminated against because they cannot afford to pay for some of the services being offered by the centre.
These children cannot watch professional games taking place or participate in some sporting activities without having to pay money.
Take for example swimming, the OYDC charges children K15 to swim. This is the price of buying a daily newspaper, a loaf of bread and 500ml packet of milk! Which child or parent from the surrounding townships of Mandevu, Matero, Chaisa or Chipata can afford to take his or her child to the OYDC for a swim more than once a week at that amount? This is unaffordable!
This price is keeping these kids, for whom the centre was built to accommodate, away from the OYDC into the hands of crimes, sex and drug abuse and delinquency, a situation it was designed to avoid.
The children of Mandevu, Matero, Chaisa or Chipata in this summer cannot afford to part away with K15 to swim or learn to swim at their centre.
There is, therefore, need for Clement Chileshe and his team to be supported to return to the dream of the OYDC of making this place accessible to children from poor and disadvantaged communities so that sport, especially swimming, can become one of the skills they learn and use for survival in their adult life.
Swimming for some can become a future income earner allowing them to become professional surfers, swimmers and swim teachers, fishermen among others! And this will come from their ability to access the OYDC swimming pools and be taught how to swim!
The Zambian government ministries in charge of the well-being of the child such as Sport, Education and Child Welfare, Unicef and the Lusaka City Council together with the Zambian National Olympic Committee (NOC) will need to join hands with the OYDC management to ensure that this place is provided with necessary resources to allow children to swim for free or at a minimum token.
The other stakeholders like the National Sports Council and its associations especially the Swimming Association too will need to persuade their international mother bodies to ensure the OYDC is well funded so that commercial interests of the centre do not overshadow its noble goals of empowering the children from the surrounding compounds from being afforded a safe place to play and learn new sporting skills.
Zambia needs to identify new untapped talent in sports such as swimming and others.
The author is former UK Sport country programme manager in Zambia.