Opinion

Vénuste Niyongabo
Champion for Peace and Olympic gold medallist in the 5000-metre run

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21/08/2019 par Vénuste Niyongabo

Without school, I will never become an Olympic champion

I will not forget. Never. I will not forget the experience I just had in August with Peace and Sport. On the occasion of the 10th edition of the Friendship Games, organized in Burundi, I went to my home province, in the south of the country. I went to my school in Makamba, the city of my childhood, where I discovered both education and running. This brought my memories to the surface of learning sport, discovering its values, but also the taste for effort and the sense of sacrifice. Thanks to the Friendship Games, I had a very emotional time.

In Makamba, as in Gitega and Bujumbura, I spoke to the young participants in each of the three steps of this 2019 edition of the Friendship Games. Through them, I saw myself at the age of 16 or 17, when I dreamed of a glorious future in track and field. I told them my story. My beginnings at school, my sacrifices to reach the highest level, even to be first at the center of an Olympic podium, my experience as an athlete and my career as a man. They listened to me. Their teachers also listened to meI tried to make it clear to them all that I was a normal person from a poor family. I also said that I used the money earned through my first races to provide my family with access to education. I explained that if I succeeded, they too could succeed.

In Burundi, as often in Africa, children discover sport at school. Physical education teachers are often very well-trained, competent and motivated and the school can offer young people a good level of training in sports. I am, I think, a good example. At school, I met teachers who showed me the way. I was young and talented. I had a lot of passion and dreams in my head. They did not try to make me an Olympic champion, but they allowed me to try several disciplines before discovering running. Without them, my destiny would not have been the same.

Today, the organization of sport is changing in Africa and school is wrongly relegated to the second place. However, at school, teachers rub shoulders with young people every day. They are best placed to instill in them not only sports learning, but also the values of cohesion, sharing and solidarity. On the occasion of these last Friendship Gamesheld in Burundi, we trained both youth and teachers in the Peace and Sport Methodology. Some do not go without others.

I am delighted that the sports and educational institutions of Burundi are joining forces with Peace and Sport to deploy a national program in schools’ extracurricular activities, with the aim of training good citizens and why not to detect future talents, with an Olympic destiny.

Cultural change takes time. It is not done in a day. But sport can succeed where politics often encounters failure. I will never forget the first Friendship Games in 2010, which brought together young people from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They did not speak the same language. But they danced together. Boys and girls teamed up in a football match. At the edge of the field, the sports ministers were present. Like me, they will never forget.

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