THE Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces (TPDF) last week finished second in the regional defence forces games held in Bujumbura, Burundi.
This was the first time in recent memory that the TPDF finished second since the games were first inaugurated a few years ago. In the past, whenever these Regional Defence Forces Games were held, the TPDF used to finish last or somewhere near the bottom of the table.
The second spot the TPDF finished last week was however, not a surprise for some of us who have been following the army’s progress in sports very closely. Even before the introduction of the regional defence forces games, TPDF were not Cinderella’s when it came to their participation in sports, not only internally, but also regionally.
These were the golden days when the army won for Tanzania, through Titus Simba, their first silver medal in boxing during the 1970 Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Simba, who held the rank of private in the army and was a driver, would be promoted to sergeant immediately after his salivating victory.
Although Simba lost in the final of the highly contested middleweight bout against a Briton, John Conteh (both men have since passed on). However, it was a very close fight which could have gone either way.
In fact, most of the British fans who had watched the bout from the ringside were silent, after the end of the three round of a toe to toe fight. They strongly believed that Conte had lost the fight to the well, built and muscular Simba. Conteh’s both eyes were swollen, giving him a lot of difficulties to see as his eyes were almost closed.
But to the surprise of many boxing fans, he won the bout on split points decision. In fact, until the 1988 Olympic Games held in Seoul, South Korea, no African boxer had ever won a gold medal be it in the Commonwealth Games or in the Olympics through points.
The first African to win a gold medal in boxing in either games; Commonwealth or Olympics, was Kenya’s Robert Napunyi Wangila. Wangila knocked out in the second round of the welterweight bout, France’s Laurent Boudouani.
The Kenyan boxer won the gold medal from the Frenchman in the final simply because he had succeeded to knock him out in the second round of the contest.
But until then, it was difficult for an African to win a gold medal in boxing be it against a white or black man, through points. Until Wangila knocked out the Frenchman in the welterweight boxing Olympic final in Seoul, no African boxer had done that.
The beauty of knocking out an opponent be it a black or white man in boxing is that there is no way the knocked out boxer could continue with the fight. And that is what exactly happened when Wangila knocked out the Frenchman.
The jury had no option but to give victory, and a gold medal in the process, to the Kenyan boxer. The same thing could be more or less said about what befell Titus Simba in July, 1970 in Edinburgh.
For although his face was clean as if he had not been in a boxing match, the victory was given to the Briton who had withstood the three round distance, but had a face that clearly showed how Simba had worked on it through his punches.
Had Simba gone on to knockout John Conteh in that boxing con test, he could have bagged in a gold medal. Three years later, in 1973, TPDF had another medal, this time in athletics, through one of its young soldiers, Filbert Bayi, when the latter dethroned Olympic and Commonwealth gold medalist and a Kenyan Police Officer, Kipchoge Keino, in the 1,500m during the All Africa Games held in Lagos, Nigeria.
Filbert Bayi, who had been a private in the TPDF, during the time, was promoted by the then Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Major General, Mirisho S. H. Sarakikya to Captain. Sarakikya who had by 2004 been the only former CDF man, who had retired from the army with the rank of Major General, was in Septem ber 2004, promoted to full General, while in retirement, by the third phase President, Benjamin William Mkapa.
However, by late 1970, the TPDF had lost its position as one of the leading institutions in the country in ‘manufacturing’ sports men and women. The situation would in October, 1978, be compounded by the war between Tanzania and Uganda which was triggered by General Idi Amin Dada following the dictator’s decision to invade and hold the Kagera Salient.
The TPDF would remain in sports doldrums until early last year, when it decided to revive sports in the army. Therefore TPDF’s major success in the just ended regional defence forces games in Bujumbura, marks the army’s revival of sports which is set to take the country to another level.
Uganda which used to finish second in the past, with Tanzania taking the third position when the region had three countries, was this time around pushed to the third position.
And the way things have been going on in the TPDF, as far as sports development is concerned, it is a matter of time before it turns the heat on their neighbours to the north just in the same way that they had done in 1970s.
After taking the lead, for many years, as Africa’s most disciplined army and the best army in peace keeping mission in the continent, TPDF is now poised to take a lead in sports in the continent. We wish them all the best in their sporting endeavours.