Monday, March 10, 2008

Baby Not Olympic Medal - Uganda's Top Athlete

The column appears in Uganda's leading Sunday newspaper - the Sunday Monitor. Reprinted with permission of the journalist.


Dorcus Inzikuru will be bringing back no medals from the Beijing Olympics in August. Ugandans may ask, "who is to blame?" And the simple answer is, "Ugandans are to blame". Or put more accurately, the level of socio-economic development in Uganda is to blame.

In Uganda, an average woman has 7 kids. In rich countries the average woman will have 2 or less children. Both a cause and a result of a country's development is reducing family size.

Back to poor Third World/Seven Kid Uganda. The socio-cultural pressure on a childless (I prefer the term "childfree") Ugandan woman in her mid-twenties
to "produce" is huge.

So Inzikuru conformed, and no doubt there were wild celebrations in Arua when she "produced" in late December.

But many people in the athletics world did not celebrate when they learnt of Inzikuru's pregnancy. For the timing of the birth made athletics nonsense. It meant that:

. She did not defend her World Championships steeplechase title in Japan in 2007
. Her preparation time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics has been so slashed, that she will do remarkably well just to reach the Final, let alone win a medal.

For God's sake, Inzikuru is only 25-years old. Uganda already has more pregnant women (and resulting poverty) than it knows what to do with. We really did not need a pregnant Inzikuru.

The contrast with the UK's outstanding marathon runner, Paula Radcliffe, is striking. She waited until she was 33 years before she had her first child. Yet the same methods of family planning were available to Inzikuru.

Running is a cruel sport in the sense that when you stop for any significant period, the fitness quickly disappears. Thus for Inzikuru, when she begins serious training again, it will be like starting from zero. And now there is just not enough time to reach the very high standards needed for her to win a medal in Beijing.

It is arguable whether even a fully fit Inzikuru would have won Gold - the women's steeplechase is a relatively new event. All over the world women are taking it up, so standards are rising much more quickly in female steeplechasing, than in other events.

Inzikuru is a wonderfully talented athlete whose World and Commonwealth Gold Medals mean that she will always have a special place in Ugandan sporting history. But the ultimate prize was to have joined John Akii Bua and become the only Ugandans to have won Olympic Gold in any sport. She had a chance of Gold. But the timing of the pregnancy, through her conforming to the norms of Ugandan society, and doing what so many of her fellow Ugandans expected of her, means that she now has no chance.
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1 comment:

Mercurior said...

if some of these countries, didnt have so many children, they wouldnt be so poor. whats needed is sustainable growth, not breed and breed.