WHILE London braces for the 2012 Olympic Games, memories of Tanzanian athletes who have excelled at international level still ring in the minds of many Londoners.
Among the athletics legends is former world 1,500 metres record holder Filbert Bayi, who is still remembered by many sports lovers in and outside the United Kingdom, especially in London where he had arch-rivals like Sebastian Coe and Steven Cram.
This was revealed recently by the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who said all he knows about Tanzania in terms of sports is Bayi.
“Yes, in terms of Tanzania sports, I remember very well Filbert Bayi who was a world champion for the 1500 metres. So whenever you mention Steve Cram and Sebastian Coe, you have to remember Filbert Bayi,” Livingstone said in an interview with a Tanzania sports lover in London.
Bayi, who is currently the Tanzania Olympic Committee (TOC) secretary general, made his international debut in the 1972 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada. The following year he won the African Games 1500m gold medal, running the year’s fastest 1,500m in 3 minutes 34.6 seconds.
At the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, he set a world record in 1500m when he won a gold medal in 3:32.16, ahead of John Walker of New Zealand.
In Kingston, Jamaica in 1975, he improved the mile world record to 3:51.0 and later that year Walker recorded the first sub 3:50 mile. The world was denied the keenly awaited clash between Bayi and Walker when Tanzania boycotted the 1976 Olympic Games.
Bayi, who still holds the Commonwealth Games 1,500m record, went on to win the African Games 1500m gold medal in 1977.
Besides Bayi, Livingstone also remembers Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
“Yes, I remember your first president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who is one of my icons. Although I have never visited the country, I would love to have an opportunity to go there,” he said.
When asked if there is anything else apart from Nyerere he remembers Tanzania for, Livingstone replied:
“I am aware of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. I have not climbed it but I am aware how famous it is and many Londoners climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. So it is well known and is an important tourist attraction for Tanzania.”
On Tanzanian culture he said, “I am also familiar with the Kiswahili language and have heard that Kiswahili is becoming a very popular international language and that it is up to you Swahili speakers to make sure the language gains more popularity.”
Livingstone was a Labour councillor in Lambeth and in Camden. He became a Labour member of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1973 and became its leader in 1981, a position he held until March 1986 when Margaret Thatcher abolished the GLC.
The GLC’s campaign against apartheid was one of the most popular political campaigns in London’s history. London-wide government was only restored in 2000.
From 1987 to June 2001, Livingstone was the Labour Member of Parliament for Brent East. He was elected Mayor of London in 2000 as an independent. In 2004 he was re-elected mayor for a second term on Labour's ticket.
He has written two books -- If Voting Changed Anything They’d Abolish It (1987) and Livingstone’s Labour (1989).
Livingstone is well known for his campaign for seven years to get the statue of Nelson Mandela erected in Parliament Square. The prominent position of the nine foot bronze statue, facing the Houses of Parliament, will honour Nelson Mandela as one of the greatest fighters for freedom in the 20th century.
It will also be a permanent statement of London’s abhorrence of apartheid and all other forms of racism.
Actually what Londoners are expecting from Tanzania is sprouting of Bayi alike athletes during the Olympic Games in 2012. This is a challenge to Bayi as a TOC secretary general and Athletics Tanzania (AT) leaders.