Looking After Yesterday’s Heroes.

September 19, 2013 at 10:03 am Leave a comment

At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games the image of John Stephen Akwhari from Tanzania was used in the promotion of Olympic heroes who had failed to win medals; the catchline was “celebrate humanity.”

Akwhari – who ran in the Perth Commonwealth Games in 1962 – competed in the marathon at the Olympics in Mexico City in 1960. Like many of the runners he struggled with the high altitude. After 19 km there was some jostling for positions and he fell badly wounding his knee as well as his shoulder which  hit hard against the pavement. He however continued running,. There were only a few thousand people left in the stadium, and the sun had set, when he came running in to complete the finals lap. He was last  among the 57 out of 75 competitors who completed the race. He was cheered by those remaining as he crossed the finish line, and then when interviewed and he was asked why he continued running, he uttered the immortal words, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

In Sydney there were a group of athletics fans who wondered first of all where John Akwhari was and also whether he was being rewarded for the IOC using his image in such a way. It turned out initially he was not, but that was soon corrected and these same men set up the John Stephen Akwhari Athletic Foundation, an organization that supports Tanzanian athletes training for the Olympic Games.

About a month ago it was announced that FIFA would be flying the last living member of Uruguay’s 1950 World Cup winning side to attend the draw for next year’s tournament in Brazil. Alcides Ghiggia, now 86 years old scored the wining goal in Uruguay’s upset 2-1 victory over the hosts Brazil at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janiero.

This is a great gesture on behalf of FIFA, but it is hoped that this living legend will not be exploited.

Sadly this was not the case in 2010. Once aware of the importance that football played in re-shaping the new South Africa, and how the prisoners on Robben Island used the rules of FIFA to learn governance in their tournaments during their exercise time, FIFA pounced on using this in its promotion of the 2010 World Cup.

Four of the key men in Makana Football Association, as it was known, Lizo Sitoto, Marcus Soloman, Tony Suze and Sedick Isaacs were used to promote the South African World Cup. On four occasions they were taken back to Robben island for publicity purposes, as well as used at other events. Yet none received any financial reward for their time or tickets to any games.

John Akwhari was lucky that John McCarthy QC was one of the men in Sydney who stepped in to help him. Others stars of yesteryear are not as lucky. With so much money in sport, surely if we are going to use these people’s memories and images they should receive some reward? In 2001 when the Socceroos lost to Uruguay in the Centenario Stadium in Montevideo and another World Cup dream was shattered, the pain of that loss was eased when one heard that the whole of the Uruguayan side donated their match fees to those survivors from the 1950 World Cup win. That is what sport is about camaraderie, sharing good and bad times and never forgetting those who came before and honouring them in what ever way we can.

Hopefully this time around FIFA will be sure to reward Alcides Ghiggia and help make his remaining days with us a little easier.

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