By Sulayman Bah
Much is said about the pedestal athletics has placed the Gambia on. The successive successes and the pride it draws. However, there is one side to it rarely seen to be accorded significance –the untold part that has drained the West African nation of its best gems in the sport.
Following an investigation by Foroyaa Sport, it’s revealing to note from the time spanning in 2000 to now, Gambia has lost 18 promising athletes never to be recovered again.
The loss –aptly put –is result of promising athletes absconding while on duty representing Gambia in international race events. The absconders, our findings shows, are usually aces tipped to come big and whom coaches have spent years training from diamonds in the rough to refined track sensations. Their pattern of abscondence tend to take two forms: Going AWOL at end of championships and leaving the team’s camping base unannounced without participating in the intended events they are fielded for.
Poor incentive or the lack of it is blamed for these defections abroad.
‘It’s disheartening we would have loved to maintain all athletes. These are potential athletes that had a brighter future in athletics,’ Arthur Jackson, Gambia Athletics Association (GAA) General Secretary says.
‘I can only assume that reason (for athletes absconding) is motivation is not as they would expect it. We (as GAA) have our limitations. In as much as we want the best for our athletes every need: for their training. The world is a global village. When they compare what they get to their counterparts in other countries, they realise that they fall way, way below. Motivation is really key in some of these things and it’s a challenge for us. We do the best we can to support them but we can only operate within our limits.’
Jackson employs ‘disheartening’ in an effort to paint the grim that befalls the GAA on hearing news of a trusted athlete absconding.
‘It’s really disheartening because these are people you’ve trained and you have bigger plans for but then you have invested your resources, time in them hoping that at some stage they’ll be projected into the global level. When our expectations fall short like this, it takes us back to rebuild other athletes to replace them (absconders). It hinders the progress of our development.
On the look of it, there are ample factors encouraging athletes to desert Gambia to start a hustle life in their adopted European countries. Inadequate access to state-of-the-art training facilities to realise their potentials. And there is funding issues with well-to-do companies barely giving athletes the look or granting a sponsorship package to enhance performance. Paltry wage scale crowns it all. National athletes are not given monthly salary like their counterparts in football. Sprinters get a minimum of $100 –the equivalent of D4,000 or less – as appearance fee for representing Gambia in international events, a sum of which in fact comes from the country’s athletics association instead of government. Although appearance fees varies, hinging on what the GAA could offer as token aimed at placating athletes. So, with families dependent on them, it even appears to build a stronger case for athletes to go AWOL abroad where standard of living is streets apart from life back home.
Interestingly, of the soaring number of absconders, none have continued their trade in their adopted nations where success appears more guaranteed with facilities at their disposal. The few who’d tried running still have either discarded the idea in totality or made little gains to make a living on. Momodou Lamin Kujabi is one case in point.
Dubbed one of the finest to emerge off the nation’s athletics production line, Kujabi absconded in the Youth Olympic Games in Canada along with two others June 2010. As is with many, his departure left the GAA dismayed but of more surprising, was announcement of his willingness to represent Canada months later for the London Olympics 2012.
Months before his saga, Fatou Tiana had also absconded in the Youth Games in Berlin, Germany.
The biggest number of Gambian track stars to desert in one go was in 2002 when five athletes failed to return to Banjul during the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Lamin Sanyang, Ousman Jatta, Yusupha Bojang, Tala Gaye and Alagie Fatty opted to prolong their stay in Manchester against the wishes of their bosses.
This massive exodus inevitably drains the country of gifted talents, forcing coaches into having to start up a complete new programme of training athletes to replace the absconding ones.
‘For me personally, the same feeling the association have. There is nothing we can do about it. In as much as we have officials that travel along with them (athletes). When they (athletes) plan to abscond, we’re not informed and then all of a sudden you just realise that they’re nowhere to be found,’ Jackson, Gambia’s Athletics Association’s Secretary General, says.
There is often a much shared tale that athletes are aided to abscond by relatives abroad who shelter them, though how true remains to be seen. Of this drawback, we were intrigued to asked which of these exoduses amused and took Jackson aback most. The answer was barely surprising.
‘Momodou Lamin Kujabi, Matarr Njie, Ousman Jatta. These were people I would never think…, even if I’m informed this people will abscond I would say no because we had better future or great hope with them and then they were very disciplined, serious. Even Fatou Tiyana too,’ he said.
Syndrome of athletes’ defection is not uncommon in Gambia or the continent. April this year alone, up to 13 athletes from Africa absconded during the Commonwealth Games in Australia though an unconfirmed report quotes the figure to be up to 50. Out of this number, 8 came from Cameroon -three weightlifters and five boxers, a difference of only one from the seven that failed to return to Yaoundé during the London Games in 2012.
There would be moaning when another of Gambia’s stars take the same route, of which is being predicted to be never far too off the cards, unless sufficient motivation is given to athletes.
Below is findings on our investigation on athletes who absconded while representing Gambia in major international events from 2000-2018.
Name Countries Absconded In
Adama Njie …………………………..Iles of Man during Youth Olympic Games (year 2000)
Lamin Sanyang………………Absconded in Manchester Commonwealth Games (year 2002)
Ousman Jatta……………….Absconded in Manchester Commonwealth Games (year 2002)
Yusupha Bojang …….. …….Absconded in Manchester Commonwealth Games (year 2002)
Tala Gaye…………………..Absconded in Manchester Commonwealth Games (year 2002)
Alagie Faye…………………….Absconded in Manchester Commonwealth Games (year 2002)
Kebba Fatty………………………London UK absconded while on transit from Austria (2006)
Kebba Jassey………………London UK absconded while on transit from Austria (year 2006)
Sulayman Bah……….. London UK absconded while on transit from Austria (year 2006)
Fatou Tiyana……………Absconded in Germany Berlin Youth Olympic Games (2009)
Matarr Bjie……………………. ……..Canada during Youth Olympic Games (2010)
Momodou Lamin Kujabi ……….. ….. Canada Youth Olympic Games (year 2010)
Musa Jatta………………………….. Canada during Youth Olympic Games (year 2010)
Abdoulie Jobe………………………..Canada during Youth Olympic Games (year 2010)
Saruba Colley……………Absconded during London Olympic Games (year 2012)
Modou Njie (Athletics Coach) ..absconded in Australia Commonwealth Games(April year 2018)
Joko Colley (Athletics Coach) absconded in Australia Commonwealth Games (April year 2018)
Abdoulie Assim ……….Absconded in Asutralia Commonwealth Games (April year 2018)