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Sports: the global language

Mouchbahani: 'Sport can break down barriers'

Ralph Mouchbahani is one of the German Olympic Sports Confederation's most well-traveled globetrotters. DW spoke to the sports coach about his goals and his current work in Zambia.

DW: Mr Mouchbahani, for three years now you have been working in Zambia. What is the thing that impresses you most about the country?

Ralph Mouchbahani: What I really like is that working with the country's sports associations, government departments and the national Olympic committee is really easy. I haven't experienced that all that often. Our Zambian colleagues are convinced that we can help them, and that we are an important partner. When you get that sort of support then that really motivates you, because you know that the project is sustainable.

Just how sports-mad is Zambia and which sports are the most popular?

Every day, when I go for a run, at least six to ten kids just come and ask to join me. That shows the enthusiasm for sport here, and it shows what is possible with sport. Athletics is very important to the people here, as is football. That's because athletics can be done without many resources. Middle distance, marathon, sprints: it's all possible without any equipment.

What has the DOSB project achieved so far?

We have a partnership with the schools to teach basic skills, and we have set up a coach licensing program too. Also, we have worked on restructuring sports associations, so that they can be more effective.

Zambian sports lesson

Sports coaching is Zambia is still inhibited by a lack of proper sports equipment

A goal is also to help young athletics stars develop. How are you going about that?

There are only two artificial running tracks in all of the country. That's one of the reasons why there is no structured competition system. We managed to get that going. We are able to invite kids with talent to the school tournaments, so that we can have a look at them. Via the so-called OYDC (the Olympic Youth Development Center) we have been able to get a squad together, so that we can get talented youngsters to come to Lusaka and look after them in a school and sporting setting. We have managed to do that well and we can already see some progress there.

What's it like for disabled athletes in Zambia? What is their standing in society and to what extent are they able to practice their sports?

The coaches from the disabled sports association are included in my work. In kids athletics, youngsters with disabilities are involved in the programs. That pleases me that those kids enjoy it. When 80 to 85 percent of the population are living on the poverty line, then of course people with disabilities are obviously even worse off. If we can help ordinary people here with sports and open their horizons, then that is going to flow on to people with disabilities too.

The villages outside of the major cities are isolated. Have you managed to get out there too? What sort of sports is happening there?

We cooperate a lot with the Non Govermental Organisations, who are already active in these areas. Most of the sports are running-based. We try to give these people sports advice, so they can use this in their work. They can use sport to build up trust with the locals, which allows them to discuss other more complex issues with the locals - things like pregnancy or hygiene.

Around the world, people love to play sport. Is it really a global language that everyone can speak?

Disabled athletes in Zambia

Disabled athletes in Zambia have it particularly tough, says Mouchbahani

There only a few countries left where I have not worked. By using sport you can communicate easier, because there are no language barriers. There are also no double standards in sport, the rules apply to everyone. For that reason sport is a language that is understandable, which can break down barriers.

Can sport change the world?

Nelson Mandela believes that "Sport has the power to change the world." But I believe that changing the world is a perhaps a bit much. We certainly influence society positively and that is very important.

What is your goal in Zambia?

That sport here becomes more presentable and a part of a society. And if those athletes who have talent are also successful, then that would be the icing on the cake.

How long will you keep touring through the world? And where will you next land?

I feel most comfortable when I have a sporting assignment that I can take on, and turnaround. That is my motivation and my motor. I am not the typical person who will retire. But, to be honest, I'm not looking that far into the future.

Ralph Mouchbahani (pictured second from left in the front row of the top picture) was born in Egypt and grew up in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Since 2012, the 57-year-old has been based in Lusaka for a long-term project for the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB).