Namibia’s great athlete quits Olympic post amid scandal

In Namibia, few are more admired than Frankie Fredericks. Long after he retired from athletics, he remains a national hero.

A former track and field athlete, he is Namibia’s first – and only – Olympic medallist, having clinched silver in the 100m and 200m at the Games in Barcelona in 1992, as well as in Atlanta in 1996.

His Barcelona medals came just two years after Namibia’s independence from apartheid South Africa, putting the young country on the sporting map and triggering wild celebrations back home.

Fredericks also won gold in the 200m at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart in Germany, before retiring in 2004 to pursue a career in business and sports administration that has now landed him in controversy.

On Tuesday, he resigned as head of the commission that monitors candidates for the 2024 Olympics amid a corruption scandal. Le Monde newspaper claimed Fredericks received about $300 000 from Papa Massata Diack, the son of the former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, Lamine Diack, on the day Rio won the bid to host the games. Fredericks, 49, has denied any wrongdoing.

The softly spoken sprinter grew up in Katutura, a poor part of Namibia’s capital Windhoek.

He started running seriously with local clubs, played high-level football and was awarded a scholarship to attend Brigham Young University in the United States in 1987.

“The mood in the country after he won the first Olympic medals was absolute hysteria,” said veteran sports journalist Conrad Angula, who knew Fredericks well during his golden days.

“People were celebrating in their homes and on the streets. They pressed their car hooters and children and adults screamed Frankie’s name. Despite what he achieved in the world, he remained loyal to Namibia. He received lucrative offers to take up other nationalities.”

For Fredericks, his image as a national icon became easier to bear as his career progressed. “I used to feel a lot of pressure to win for the sake of my country, but it is not the case any more,” he said in 1998.

“I was running for my country and my people, but now, I think they accept whatever I achieve.”

After retiring, Fredericks joined athletics bodies such as the International Association of Athletics Federation athletes’ commission, the Namibian National Olympic Committee executive committee and the athlete committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

He also ventured into business deals and real estate investment.

Fredericks is part of a group of politically well-connected businessmen in Namibia who own the Eros Valley Consortium.

In 2012, the consortium bought a large block of land east of Windhoek in a project estimated to be worth $80‑million. Fredericks and his partners initially wanted to construct hundreds of elite apartments and a golf course, but the plan has stalled.

He also runs a charity organisation that gives scholarships to young athletes. It was launched in 1999 by Namibia’s President Hage Geingob.

“I am shocked [about the corruption allegation],” said Angula. “He had a chance to cheat as an athlete, but he never did. He told me he did not want to put Namibia, his family and his own reputation into disrepute.

“He remains Namibia’s first great athlete and he stands tall as a respectable son of the soil.” – AFP

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