I am bringing something of a Southern African flavour to SportWatch for a couple of weeks as I undertake a sports development placement in Namibia, with UK Sport and British Cycling. It is inevitable that I will be paying a keen interest in the development of cycling, and sport generally, for girls and women while I am here and sharing my experiences.
The IDEALS Professional programme is run by UK Sport to provide development opportunities to sports professionals to broaden their experiences, extend global awareness and enhance leadership capacity. While helping to build the capacity of local sports bodies and organisations involved in sport in the country being visited. I, and others over the course of this year, will travel to Namibia to work alongside the Namibian Cycling Federation, and their key development partner Physically Active Youth, providing coaching and other expertise to support the development of cycling.
I applied for this programme because I have been paying an interest in the development of cycling on the African Continent for a few years now, and women’s cycling in particular. Cycling, as a sport, is undergoing significant growth in many areas of Africa, and this is beginning to gain higher profile on a wider international (western) stage. A small number of individual male African riders have previously, and continue to ride on the European and world stage as part of largely European-based teams. And it was announced only this month that team MTN-Qhubeka would be the first African licensed team to ride the Tour de France, through the allocation of a wild card to this South African based team. This is a major step forward for the profile of African men’s road cycling, and one that I hope the British media coverage during the Tour will really pick up on. MTN-Qhubeka are a team heavily invested in developing both cycling as sport and as a means of mobilising people for development in rural Africa, through the aims of the Qhubeka charity. Who by way of a Bristolian link, is the charity supported by LA Revolution (where I go for excellent spinning classes) – their ‘Spin across Africa’ in autumn 2014 raised funding for 10 bicycles to be donated in Africa.
This achievement builds on the work over at least the last decade of a number of African countries. Some of which are already managing to find a spotlight in the western media for their cycling development across a range of disciplines – predominantly mountain bike and road. Team Rwanda is fairly well known in cycling circles, alongside it’s sister organisation the Rising from Ashes Foundation. This coverage grew out of the amazing worldwide response to the documentary film, Rising from Ashes telling of the experiences of Rwanda’s first national cycling team and the power of sport to rebuild lives of genocide survivors. With a host of other countries involved in cycling an increasingly busy UCI calendar for the Africa Tour hosts over 30 events in 9 countries. Supporting this growth on the African continent is a key plank of the strategy for the sport’s international governing body, the UCI, you can learn more about the UCI development strategy here.
Increasingly the good news is that this development includes extending the opportunities to women to access cycling as a sport. Cyclo Femme rides were held in Rwanda and Eritrea in 2014, encouraging more women to come out and cycle. Amongst others supporting the organisation of this work are Kimberly Coats (@Mokigirl) and other projects looking to fund raise to support a women’s team in Rwanda here.
As for Namibia itself Dan Craven (@DanfromNam) is probably the current most high-profile Namibian cyclist. A one-time Bristol resident (those cyclist Strava users of you out there may be familiar with some of Dan’s ratings on local rides), apparently he loves Bristol but is less keen on the weather! Riding for the French Team Europcar, Dan competed in a number of high-profile races in 2014, including finishing the gruelling Vuelta, and placed 9th in the Road Race at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Namibia took a team of 8 to the Games, including 2 women who competed in road and time trial disciplines.
It is interesting and a real privilege to learn more about cycling in Namibia and how it is developing, as well as have the opportunity to coach girls while I am here. My first experience of local road racing on Sunday with the Nedbank sponsored Windhoek Pedal Power Dordabis race was certainly exciting – considerably helped by my first ride with the Commissar which is an angle I have not watched a race from before. Although the field of women was small with only 3 women in the elite category lining up for the 80km out and back race, the decision to race the elite men and women side by side for at least the first half of the race gave masses of race experience to the women to ride in the larger peloton.
Still to come while I am here, there are National Time Trials and Road Race Championships, opportunities next week to begin some coaching with girls from the Katutura township as part of the PAY project, heaps more learning about women’s sport and cycling – and I will hopefully also manage some mountain biking myself which could well end messily!