by Philip Richards

Covid-19 impact on sport
As expected, Covid-19 has had a major impact on sports activity within the country. In mid-March, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa suspended all sporting events for 30 days as part of a joint East African approach to containing the virus (The Citizen 18/3/20).

Tanzanian Premier League
At the time of writing, it is reported that no decision has yet been made on if and when the Vodacom Premier League season will resume once the current 30 days suspension of activity expires (The Guardian 18/4/20) though one possibility being considered by the Tanzania Premier League Board is that matches will recontinue but behind closed doors (The Guardian 19/3/20). At the point of suspension of the league, Simba SC were 17 points clear of second placed Azam FC, despite a 1-0 defeat to Young Africans (Yanga) who sit in third place (The Citizen 9/3/20).

Tanzanian star joins Aston Villa

Publicity photograph to celebrate the arrival of Tanzanian Mbwana Samatta at Aston Villa football club (N. Williams/AVFC)

At the beginning of this year, the country had reason for great pride when English Premier League club Aston Villa completed an £8.5m deal for the 27-year-old Tanzanian international captain Mbwana Samatta from the Belgium club Genk, the first Tanzanian to play in the Premier League [see cover photo].

Samatta began his career in humble beginnings at Mbagala Market in the Tanzanian Second Division when he was 17 years old where he was unpaid, before moving onto African Lyon and then attracting the attention of the country’s biggest club Simba SC. His international career took off with a move to Congolese club TP Mazembe where Samatta won four successive domestic titles and lifted the 2015 Africa Champions League, before securing a big time move to Europe with Genk in January 2016.

Aston Villa, currently struggling to retain their place in the English Premier League, looked to Samatta to replace an injured striker. He made his debut in the club’s Carabao Cup semi-final win against Leicester City and followed up with his first goal in the Premier League

– the first ever Tanzanian to score in the Premier League. The goal was a header during their 2-1 win at Bournemouth and was followed up with another (diving) header in the Carabao Cup Final against Manchester City; this kept Villa in the final, and although Samatta ended up on the losing side that day, he earned the additional honour of being the first Tanzanian to score at Wembley (reported in The Guardian (UK) 28/2/20).

As the UK is hit by Covid-19 and their football season comes to a halt, the last few months must have felt like a rollercoaster for Samatta. Although he has made a positive impact at Villa, the original race to sign him from Genk included several clubs including Galatasaray; it is reported that the Turkish club may still be interested in capturing Samatta depending upon the outcome of Aston Villa’s fortunes this season and whether they retain their Premier League status (as reported in Sport Witness 29/3/20).

Samatta’s signing by Aston Villa has attracted widespread excitement within Tanzania, where the Premier League remains immensely popu­lar. He has been described as the county’s “topmost unofficial diplomat, selling Tanzania abroad”, and bars up and down the country were crammed with viewers when Villa matches were broadcast on TV. A few Tanzania fans made it to Villa Park and Wembley to watch their hero. And there have been reports of Villa fan websites and social media pages facing an avalanche of messages from fans in Tanzania – expressing their support for Samatta and for Aston Villa, and, on occasion, bemoaning the inability of his teammates to create good opportunities for him to score.

Kelvin John, hoping to follow in Mbwana Samatta’s footsteps

One to watch out for, and closely following in the footsteps of Samatta, is young talent Kelvin John, who is hoping to join Samatta’s old club Genk next year after successful trials. The 17 year old John, who counts Samatta as an “elder brother” clearly wishes to emulate the Tanzanian captain’s success in Europe, and further highlight the profile of Tanzanian football overseas (The Citizen 21/1/20).

Athletics and the Olympics
It is being reported that the postponement of this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games to the summer of 2021 has been called a “blessing in disguise” for Tanzania’s athletes by Tanzania Olympic Committee Secretary General, Filbert Bayi (Daily News 25/3/20). At the time of postponement only two Tanzanian athletes, Alphonce Simbu and Failuna Matanga had qualified for the Games for the marathon event, so there is now further opportunity for other athletes to meet the qualification criteria. As well as athletics, Bayi cited boxing, judo and volleyball and being the disci­plines that are being targeted, and that preparations for qualification will resume once the current suspension of competitive sport due to Covid-19 is lifted.

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