Cricket in Namibia is expanding and thriving. Arguably, one of the most important developments in cricket’s continued growth in the country is Cricket Namibia’s commitment to taking the sport outside of Windhoek, the country’s capital city.
Emerging Cricket recently had an opportunity to talk to Wilhelm Tuhafeni about the current state of cricket outside of the country’s capital. Tuhafeni is Cricket Namibia’s Regional Cricket Development Officer for the Kunene Region. Tuhafeni’s role is to ‘develop, promote, administer and coach cricket Kunene’s schools via the Ashburton Kwata Cricket program, an introductory program to hardball cricket.’
Cricket Namibia set up the Ashburton Kwata Cricket program in 2014 and it has now been running successfully for six years under the Tuhafeni’s leadership.
‘Over the past few years cricket has been dominating in Windhoek because of the better facilities and probably coaching structures and the standard of coaching’, but the situation now has changed Tuhafeni explains.
‘I am proud to say many young players are from outside Windhoek. The interest of young boys and girls has been growing fast outside Windhoek. Cricket is now played in all the regions’.
The growth in participation numbers is mirrored by Namibia’s success on the field. Currently, Namibia’s men’s team sits 18th in the ODI rankings. Attaining ODI status gives the side plenty of opportunities to climb further up the ladder. Alongside the team’s ODI success, the Eagles sit 19th in the T20I rankings and qualified for the now 2021 Men’s T20 World Cup in India. The women’s national team is also improving. They made their debut appearance at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers in 2019 and their domestic landscape is also taking giant strides.
Tuhafeni is encouraged by these developments. ‘Yes of course Namibian cricket is growing tremendously and with the country gaining the ODI status, there are currently many exciting opportunities for all players. Everyone wants to play cricket,’ he says.
But, grassroots development work cannot stagnate as there is still work to be done to establish the sport further throughout the country. Tuhafeni is not complacent.
‘Namibia is a small and still growing country and many people live in remote places. Many schools are in remote areas and these kids are not yet exposed to cricket,
‘The media only reaches the few who are already engaged in the sport and those who live in towns. Programs such as roadshows and regional coaching visits are essential to capture the attention of the nation,’ continues Tuhafeni.
Johan Muller, Cricket Namibia’s CEO, appears to have a similar view to Tuhafeni. Muller, during an interview with NBC, stated that key to the future of Namibian Cricket is ‘knowledge’.
In addition to expanding people’s knowledge of the sport, Cricket Namibia must also breakdown the stigmas that currently exist around the sport. The reality described by Tuhafeni is that ‘Many people still see cricket as a “white sport” (a sport that is dominated by the caucasian demographic of society)’.
Another challenge is that of getting parents to understand the value of letting their child play cricket. Many parents want to ensure that their children are engaging with activities that are beneficial both to their education and their individual development.
‘It was difficult and very interesting at first, especially when kids inform their parents that they going for cricket practice or perhaps on a tour, many parents find it so strange. I needed to form a good and trustworthy relationship with parents and have them to allow their kids to travel for cricket-related activities,’ Tuhafeni reflected on what it has been like to engage families with the sport.
‘In 2018 and 2019 we produced age group national players which was an eye-opener for many parents and communities who had a perception about cricket being a white sport. That has now changed. At the moment some parents are really encouraging and they also motivate their kids to take the sport seriously because there is something to play for and opportunities are constantly showing up, for example in getting selected in an age group national team or playing for your region and so forth.’
This process of continues grassroots and elite player development is helping Namibia produce new role models. Role models can be so important in helping children find a connection with the sport, but also in other aspects of life.
According to Tuhafeni ‘we have some really good young role models who play for the senior men and women’s team. Players such as Nicol Lofty Eaton, Ben Shikongo, Mauritius Ngupita, Sylvia Shihepo and Arrasta Diergaardt just completed high school in 2019 and now play professional cricket.’ ‘This really inspires many upcoming boys and girls players to work hard in order to become professional players one day. They know there is an opportunity to make a living out of playing cricket.’
There are no limits to where cricket in Namibia can go, but it is up to passionate cricket lovers like Tuhafeni to keep it on course for greater things.
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