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The Athletics Olympic Dividend fund is allowing young athletes in Burundi to dream about the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The Burundi Athletics Federation has been on a mission over the past four years to identify young talent and modernise the sport in the country. This has now been made possible by the fund rolled out by the IAAF in 2015, which offers $25,000 every year to each member federation for their development.
The vision for how the fund is used in Burundi has been shaped by federation president Dieudonne Kwizera, the 1987 world indoor 800m finalist.
“Burundi badly needed the funding provided by the Olympic Dividend Fund,” said Kwizera. “Before that, my federation relied on just small sponsors that could not cover our main goals of identifying, promoting and following young athletes from different parts of Burundi especially in high schools.”
The country has had a few world class athletes over the years such as 1996 Olympic 5000m champion Vénuste Niyongabo and Kwizera himself, but most of these athletes reached the world stage through difficult conditions. There was little or no infrastructure, few competitions and lack of follow up. This is what Kwizera is trying to change.
“I faced a lot of difficulties when I was younger,” says the 51-year-old. The snags he hit during his time as an athlete, and later as a coach, are now the driving force behind his quest for change. “I want to do everything possible so that my missed opportunities won’t be repeated for my younger brothers and sisters.”
The Olympic Dividend has in recent years been geared towards the identification of young talent in Burundi. It has helped the federation expand regular cross country and road races between high schools located in the same district in each of the four athletics sections (north, centre and east, south, and west). Resources are maximised by reducing the distance athletes have to travel to compete.
The best talent from each region is then invited to the national championships, where an elite crop is gathered and sent to regional competitions to seek entry into continental and world events like the Olympic Games. The Burundi Athletics Federation is aiming to qualify at least eight athletes for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which will be a record. Kwizera says nearly all of their Olympic hopefuls are products of the dividend fund.
Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, President of the Confederation of African Athletics, hopes that other countries on the continent will use the Olympic Dividend Fund in the way that Burundi has.
“We are encouraging federations to get the money to help them set up development programmes at the national level,” says Malboum. “It could be used for the identification and training of young athletes or to organise competitions. If each federation can set up the proper plan to use the money, then our sport on the continent would benefit greatly.”
The Burundi Athletics Federation is proud of the gains it has made thanks to the fund.
“People do not always know or realise the financial challenges that some athletics federations like ours face,” says Kwizera. “But I hope that by the actions that we have undertaken these past four years we have managed to show the impact that the Athletics Olympic Dividend has had in the development of our athletics programme in Burundi. Without it, we would not be where we are today so, as a federation, we are very grateful that the IAAF has distributed this fund with us who are working at the grassroots of the sport.”
That doesn’t mean the federation is done with improvements.
“Though Burundi has won several medals at the international level, we do not have yet a synthetic or tartan track,” says Kwizera. “This is my next challenge.”
By Helen Ngoh for the IAAF
Note: this article appears courtesy of IAAF.org.