At the heart of IBSA’s raison d’être is its expertise in planning, organising and staging sports competitions on a worldwide scale. We have been reasonably successful - and it is clear that in some regions IBSA prospers. Significant progress has been made in Europe, where a robust organisational structure exists, which actively engages with its members, resulting in far greater numbers than ever before taking part in regular physical activities, with European blind athletes participating at the highest levels of international competition.
Unfortunately, the situation outside of Europe is more problematic - specifically in developing regions, including Africa. In these areas, not only is there a far higher proportion of blind and partially sighted people - W.H.O. data inform us that 80% of all blind people live in under-developed countries of the world ; invariably, due to totally inadequate infrastructures, the blind community leaders have not yet been galvanised to address the needs of their constituency in Africa.
A forthright appraisal of IBSA’s failed approaches in the past would suggest that the lack of success is due to the absence of an overall long-term strategy - ad hoc development projects may well have delivered a feel-good factor to visiting “experts” but that did not translate into meaningful and sustained change on the ground. Too often, expectations have been raised to unrealistic levels, resulting in deep disappointment when those expectations are - unsurprisingly - are not met.
Whilst it is vital IBSA accepts that much work is required to meet the challenges presented by a region as vast as Africa, it is equally important that it operates in a strategic manner, cognizant of the fact that its limited resources - both human and financial - must be carefully targeted in a structured approach designed to meet specific and measurable objectives. This means that it must make choices and accept that not all regions can be tackled simultaneously.
Focus on Africa
In common with many of its peer organisations, IBSA has regularly discussed Africa as being a “trouble spot” in developmental terms. IBSA has been responsible for a number of impromptu development projects across the African continent over a number of years. However, IBSA is now determined to address this intolerable situation, and funds have been earmarked for use in Africa on a carefully considered basis.
We know from experience that a significant number of young people are involved in physical sporting activity across the African continent. However, we are equally aware of the lack of a solid framework required to maintain any worthwhile initiative. IBSA will be inviting stakeholders, leaders, and potential leaders of the blind people of Africa to discuss ways in which to increase participation levels and establish the structural supports necessary for sustainability.
This is a potentially ground-breaking project that will benefit from the involvement of peer organisations such as IPC, UNADEV, ICEVI and WBU on a number of levels. The aim will be to build powerful stakeholder relationships across the African continent.
Our strategic plan for Africa will be informed by feedback captured throughout the strategic process, where the level of engagement displayed by the stakeholders will be monitored and encouraged. Two such workshops have already taken place and more are planned for 2014, to coincide with the IBSA Judo African Championships and the IBSA Football African Championships (more details in future newsletters).
Stakeholders have been invited to take part in various workshops and seminars over a defined period. Others will be asked to complete a detailed feedback questionnaire - all with a view to producing a report that is rigorously honest in its assessment of where we are and how far we must travel to help Africa maximise its potential. We have carefully selected a mix of key individuals from across the African continent, who will identify all of the challenges that have hindered progress to date. Simultaneously, we will be seeking ways in which the enormous potential that exists in Africa, in the form of athletes, coaches, leaders (and potential leaders), can be nurtured and empowered to take ownership and build sustainable structures that are fundamental to success. By doing so, it will help us to define and influence the future direction to be taken.
Key “milestones” to date:
- Two strategic planning and coaching workshops have taken place in Africa – more are planned
- IBSA Goalball Africa Championships were held in Nairobi in December 2013 – the first time a major IBSA competition has taken place in Sub-Saharan Africa
- IBSA Africa committee, chaired by Martin Okiyo (Kenya), has been formed
Whilst it will be absolutely vital not to raise expectations to unrealistic levels, leading inevitably to a “false dawn”, by investing financial and human resources in this project, IBSA is at the very least, demonstrating its determination to finally “make a difference” by acting as a strong advocate for blind sports and as a catalyst for real and lasting change for blind athletes across Africa.