Zambia has sent 166 athletes to the Olympic games since 1960. Of those two have earned medals—a silver in Atlanta for the 400-meter hurdles and a bronze in Los Angeles for boxing. Zambia, along with many other African countries, has never sent a rower to any Olympic games.
Zambian rower Antonia Van Deventer is hoping to change that in Rio 2016.
In July of 2011, Van Deventer and several international level scullers (rowers who use two oars instead of one) embarked on a journey to row 1,000 kilometers down the Zambezi River. The expedition, which took about 20 days, was wrought with obstacles from crocodiles to white water rapids.
“The aim is to promote grassroots sport—in particular, rowing,” said Van Deventer on the eve of the expedition.
Once the expedition closed, the best Van Deventer hoped for was that the boats used for the journey would be left behind for the benefit of the communities among the Zambezi.
In 2015, she can expect to get something better, as FISA (the international governing body for rowing competitions) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have collaborated to build a state of the art rowing and research center on Zambia’s Kafue River.
As a major tributary of the Zambezi River, the Kafue is responsible for powering much of Zambia’s limited industry through a hydropower system. It is the main source of water, both for drinking and agricultural use for the communities that line its shores.
When the WWF became concerned about the degradation of the Kafue’s fresh-water ecosystem, they turned to FISA in hopes that sport could help promote ecological awareness and health in Zambia.
“The competing claims on the water of the Kafue River are a microcosm of what is happening in many parts of the world. The region is experiencing a conflict in demand from the population’s need for clean water…the lessons we learn from studying this ecosystem and interacting with all stakeholders will be valuable for use in Kafue and all around the world,” said Bart Geenen, a Senior Water Expert at WWF.
FISA is also optimistic about the opportunities that the sport of rowing can bring to Zambian athletes of all levels; from children to Olympic hopefuls like Van Deventer:
“We can use this Centre to help develop our sport in this region,” said Christophe Rolland of the World Rowing Federation. “It will provide a resident facility for the nearby schools and universities as well as rowers from universities around the world who can conduct their water research.”
What does a research and rowing center mean for Zambian citizens? The Kafue River and Rowing Center presents a unique opportunity to fuse the natural and athletic components of rowing with health outcomes in Zambia.
A 2010 Global Burden of Disease study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation named gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and non-communicable diseases (such as cardiovascular disease) as significant barriers to global health.
By promoting clean water research at the Kafue River and Rowing Center, scientists may be able to improve water quality and significantly cut down on the instances of intestinal disease. Additionally the aerobic and muscular benefits that come from rowing may help promote more long-term health in Zambian communities.
– Emma Betuel