Neighbours Senegal won the Afcon for the very first time since their first attempt in 1986. That of course followed many years of unsuccessful attempts to qualify by the Teranga Lions. From 1986 and now though, they have reached the final a number of times. That feat alone, coupled with this year’s triumph make Senegal a great footballing nation, arguably, the best in Africa, and miles far away from The Gambia which used to be her biggest and closest rival in the sub-regional Zone II football tourney in the 1970s and ’80s.
Senegal may be bigger in population and economy than The Gambia but what must have propelled them to take a giant leap from Zone II to be ranked Africa’s best has to do more with organisation than resources. For a start, the country put in place set goal in sports: of achieving excellence in all major international disciplines – football, basketball and athletics. To attain this, the country formed a cadre of retired and active sports men and women, trained them to become coaches and administrators in their respective disciplines. In other words, they gave sports to those who played it. This way, the country produced its own local pool of coaches, for example in football, the likes of Amara Traoré, Joseph Koto and Alioune Cissé guided the national team producing sterling records.
Man power aside, Senegal invested heavily in sports infrastructure with each municipality in Dakar and other regional capitals and their surroundings having their own local mini stadia alongside national ones. These facilities attract young people to take interest in sports and help administrators to organise competitions on standard facilities.
These among other things are the fruits Senegal is today reaping and therefore lessons The Gambia could learn from.
Yes, we may have qualified to Afcon and sensationally reached the quarter-final. But with some self-evaluation we would admit that we have some catching up to do and the only way to do this is to put the right people in charge of sports at the technical and administrative levels. Gone are days when people looking for fame or money and can claim entitlement to serve in our sports bodies or run the game for us. We still have a pool of veteran players and seasoned administrators across all disciplines who can be engaged rather than elbowed in running our sports. The new heights we have reached in football must be based on solid foundation for retention or consolidation. The best way to do that is to start a new radical assessment of our methods and change for the better.