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South America, Africa lag in medals

South America, Africa lag in medals

A quick glance at the Olympic medal charts shows winners from every corner of the world. A closer look reveals two entire continents, South America and Africa, lagging far behind the others, to the consternation of their sports officials and the dismay of their fans.
In Brazil, disgruntled hackers invaded the national Olympic committee's Web site to complain about the results in Beijing. "Brazil stinks in these Olympics" was among the messages posted. In Nigeria, the team's departure for China was proceeded by public bickering among top sports officials as to whether the athletes were prepared.
This continental divide is decades old, and the International Olympic Committee has tried to narrow it with financial assistance to underperforming nations. But the gap remains wide.
Through Thursday's Olympic events, Africa and South America together had won nine of the 237 available gold medals, two fewer than Australia. Overall, South America, Central America and Mexico had won 18 medals out of more than 700 awarded so far, while Africa had won 23 _ including 11 by the perennially strong distance runners of Kenya and Ethiopia.
The IOC's Olympic Solidarity program provides funds to weak sporting nations and offers scholarships so their promising athletes can upgrade their training, often abroad. Over the past four years, the program's budget was US$244 million _ and the IOC has intensified auditing to ensure the money is wisely spent.
However, Kevan Gosper, an IOC member who is vice chairman of Olympic Solidarity, said the weaker countries face a "moving target" as the sporting superpowers constantly find new ways to stay on top.
"What we're working on in Solidarity is keeping the back end of the convoy in the convoy," Gosper said. "If we weren't spending that money, we'd find that the convoy would break in two and we'd lose our universality."
About 585 athletes from 150 countries are competing in China thanks in part to the scholarships, according to Olympic Solidarity official James McLeod. They included kayaker Benjamin Boukpeti, who won Togo's first Olympic medal ever.
The dearth of medals is understandable in much of sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty is widespread and training facilities limited. The underperformance is more puzzling in South America, where a majority of nations have won only a handful of medals in all of Olympic history _ 11 for Venezuela and Colombia, 10 for Uruguay, four for Peru, two for Ecuador, one for Paraguay, none ever for Bolivia.
Brazil by all logic should be a vibrant exception _ a populous, sports-loving and increasingly prosperous nation. Yet its results thus far in Beijing _ eight medals, including one gold _ have been a disappointment at home.
David Coimbra, a commentator for Brazil's Zero Hora newspaper, noted that the country's strengths are in team sports such as football and volleyball, not in many other Olympic disciplines.
"Sports like swimming and track and field are activities that demand planning, full-time dedication and concentration," he wrote, suggesting that in Brazil there is "no prospect for success or a future career" in these sports.
Cesar Cielo did win Brazil's first-ever swimming gold in the 50-meter freestyle, but noted on his return home that his success hinged largely on three years of training in the United States.
"Brazil has good infrastructure _ what it lacks is competition," Cielo said at a news conference. "In the competitions in the United States, you look next to you and you see Michael Phelps."
In Chile, which has won only 13 medals in Olympic history, minimal government funding for sports development is a major problem, said Ivan Valenzuela, a Chilean sports broadcaster covering the Beijing Games.
"The public schools in Chile _ they can't get a field to play on or a ball for basketball," he said. "There's no money for sports, so the results are no surprise."
Mexico is another chronic Olympic underachiever, a country of 107 million people with only 11 gold medals since its first games in 1932. The 11th _ won Wednesday by Guillermo Perez in taekwondo _ triggered celebrations in Mexico and a congratulatory phone call from President Felipe Calderon.
Before that victory, Mexico had won only a single bronze medal in China; columnist Ruben Romero of the newspaper Reforma called it "a dizzying collapse." Commentators blamed everything from poor coaching and bureaucratic infighting to inadequate training facilities and flaws in the national character.
"Disappointment is part of our daily routine," wrote German Martinez Cazares in the newspaper El Universal. "There is no culture of triumph."
Mexico's poorly funded schools share part of the blame, as child obesity becomes prevalent. Most government schools offer little in the way of sports; often the only facility is a cement courtyard.
In Africa, Nigeria is one of the few countries with potential to be a sporting powerhouse _ it has 140 million citizens and billions of dollars yearly in oil revenues. But the corruption and mismanagement that have left the country impoverished also have undermined its sports infrastructure.
Many of Nigeria's top athletes live abroad and don't train regularly with their teammates. What training facilities do exist in Nigeria are substandard.
Top Olympic officials had to step in earlier this year to ban numerous doctors and dignitaries angling to get a government-paid trip to Beijing. At some past Olympics, officials outnumbered competitors.
One bright spot is Nigeria's football team, which has reached the gold-medal match. Nigerians hover around outdoor television sets powered by rickety gasoline generators to watch its games.
But for most Nigerians, who get by on less than US$1 per day, the Olympics take a back seat to the daily struggles of feeding family members and paying school fees.
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Associated Press writers Edward Harris in Lagos, Nigeria; Mark Stevenson and Traci Carl in Mexico City; and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-16 06:42 GMT+08:00