March 29, 2019
JICA cooperation in the nurturing of female track and field athletes in Tanzania – as part of efforts to improve the social position of women in the country – is beginning to see results.
Triggered by LADIES FIRST, a women’s track meet started by JICA 2017, athletes have improved their training environment. Tanzanian female runners have even won marathons in Japan. Meanwhile, in January, Sydney Olympics marathon gold medalist and JICA official supporter Naoko Takahashi held a marathon workshop in Tanzania, offering direct coaching to athletes. Expectations are being placed on a good showing at Tokyo 2020 by female Tanzanian runners.
The 2nd LADIES FIRST track and field meet
In Tanzania, there is a strong preconception that sports are for men. Women only have limited opportunities to engage in sports.
In 2017, JICA hosted the 1st LADIES FIRST track meet with the cooperation of former Olympian Juma Ikangaa (Goodwill – PR – Ambassador of the JICA Tanzania Office), who won Olympic diplomas representing Tanzania in the men’s marathon at the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics. The meet was held with the aim of realizing gender equality in the country. It led to support of Tanzanian female athletes by Japanese companies and local organizations.
One hundred twenty-nine women participated in a total of seven events, including sprints, long-distance races and javelin throw, at the 2nd LADIES FIRST meet held last year in November. This was an increase by more than 20 athletes as compared to the first meet.
Sylivia, who placed among the top eight at the 1st LADIES FIRST meet
After doing well in the 1st LADIES FIRST meet, Sylivia Masatu began receiving the support of a church in Arusha, Tanzania, an area that is known as the home of athletics. The church puts effort into providing support to track and field athletes. A former track and field athlete became Sylivia’s coach. Sylivia now lives at the coach’s home and goes to school while receiving emphatic coaching.
Sylivia was born and raised on a small island in Lake Victoria. In her new surroundings, she has a good training environment available to her and can concentrate on marathon training. In October last year, she ran in the Nagai Marathon held in Nagai City, Yamagata Prefecture, and placed third in the half marathon. Nagai City is hosting Tanzania for Tokyo 2020.
Angelina John, who won the Nagai Marathon women’s full marathon, is another promising female runner from Tanzania. She takes part in training camps while raising two children. She expressed her hopes, saying that she would like to take part and win a medal in Tokyo 2020 and become an athlete that her country can be proud of. She added that she will do whatever she can to win a spot for the Games.
Naoko Takahashi giving guidance to Tanzanian athletes
“Stand straight and keep good posture!” “Don’t look down. Look straight ahead of you!” In January this year, JICA official supporter Naoko Takahashi held a marathon workshop at Arusha Stadium in Tanzania. About 100 people, centering on female athletes, took part.
Participants listened attentively with a serious expression on their faces as Ms. Takahashi offered guidance. They learned the training methods used by Japanese athletes, such as running while raising one’s knees high as if jumping, or moving one’s arms and legs at different rhythms. One of the female athletes who participated in the workshop said that she was able to learn effective training methods.
Ms. Takahashi said that she could really feel the desire of the participants to become stronger athletes. She sensed the power of the women to pave their own paths even without a favorable environment in place.
Challenges in spreading sports in a developing country is not limited to gender inequality and include the existing form of physical education and lack of coaches.
Amid such circumstances, Mr. Ikangaa said that this effort to nurture female runners will have a good impact on physical education in Tanzania as well as the cultivation of coaches. He said that the female athletes at the LADIES FIRST meet aiming for Tokyo 2020 were introduced on Tanzanian TV, and he is seeing young women who have started engaging in sports to be like them.
Mr. Ikangaa said that he hopes that the participation of women athletes from Tanzania in Tokyo 2020 will set a good, successful precedent, spread understanding towards female athletes, and lead to the improvement of women’s social position in the country. The challenge by Mr. Ikangaa and female Tanzanian runners continues.