West African Athletes Prove A Worthy Investment

Just over a century ago Africans were deemed inferior to Caucasians, in terms of athletic ability. Few Blacks had the opportunity to participate in the Olympic Games, and those that did, did so as representatives of colonial powers.

A couple of decades later, Sub-Saharan African countries gained independence and proudly began to send their own players. However, where a minute number of African-Americans were receiving Olympic glory, African athletes hardly received any recognition.

When Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won the first gold medal for the African continent, running barefooted in the 1960 Games in Rome, the global audience became aware of the potential of African Athletes. However racism became an obstacle, as audience members often made racist chants, threw banana peels and mimicked the sounds of monkeys as black athletes entered the Olympic stadiums.

Over the years the number of African athletes participating in the Games increased. Fast forward to today, and Black and African athletes have become the ones to fear in sporting competitions. Respect is continually mounting for the ethnic group which was once considered athletically impaired.  Figures show that Last year nearly 80% of the NBA was African American and 6 of the 10 most expensive football transfers made in 2009 were black players.

According to U.S. Olympic gold medalist sprinter Michael Johnson, Black athletes of West African descent have a ‘superior athletic gene’, which enables them to have the best athletic performance.

A DNA test taken by Johnson was shown earlier this month on a Channel 4 documentary, which confirmed he is of West African descent.

He said: “All my life I believed I became an athlete through my own determination, but it’s impossible to think that being descended from slaves hasn’t left an imprint through the generations.

“Slavery has benefited descendants like me. I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us”.


The question on the lips of many genetic scientists is: do athletes from Africa have a biological advantage?

This question was not only prompted by Michael Johnson’s controversial statement but records have left many thinking the same thing. For example, in the past four Olympic men’s 100 metres finals, all of the 32 competitors were of West African descent.

The staggering amount of gold medals won by Kenyans and Ethiopians has brought many to the conclusion that East Africans are genetically more able to endure marathons and long distances, whilst West Africans are biologically advantaged in Sprinting and sports such as basketball and football.

Whatever the truth, it cannot be denied that the performance of Athletes of West African descent has been impressive in the past few decades. So much so that more and more European countries are investing in West African athletes. This year Luc Abolo, Joel Abati, Vince Aka Akese and Jean Renaud Adde are some of the members of France’s Olympic team. Abdul Buhari, Phillips Idowu, Lawrence Okoye, Christine Ohuruogu are all of Nigerian descent and are all hoping to bring home the gold for Great Britain in this year’s Olympic Games.

All eyes are on Nigeria and Ghana, as they are expected to do West Africa and the entire continent proud in the London Games.

This year West African nations are also seeing their athletes participating  in more diverse sports, some of which originate from other parts of the world and could be perceived as rather farfetched.  Spectators are excited to see the performance of Ghana’s first Judo qualifier, Emmanuel Nartey, Alexandre Bouzaid, Senegals only female fencer, and Mali’s Taekwondo athletes, including Daba Modibo Keita who, in 2007, was the first African to win a world championship in the sport.

The journey of West African athletes from history to the present day has increasingly proven that they are a worthy investment. We are hoping for more Olympic success in the biggest sporting event, set to take place in a matter of days.