Africa — My Homeland. Former Olympian inspires lessons in sport and politics

From mid-January to May, Tiffin was a temporary home for a Tiffin University visiting lecturer in sports management from the war-torn country of Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa. Dr. Francis Horace Dove-Edwin, a two time Olympian (1988 Barcelona, Spain and 1992 Seoul, South Korea), departed after TU’s graduation for his current residence in England, but he left the countless people he met in Tiffin with lasting lessons in humility, global awareness, and an appreciation for the great educational aspects of sport.

While in Tiffin, Francis often talked of the child soldiers from Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war that he was privileged to coach in international track competitions. He spoke of the humanitarian acts by sport companies such as Nike and adidas that provided running shoes and training gear for kids who traded in their machine guns when the war ended in 2002. Thousands upon thousands of children were part of makeshift troops trained to protect their villages from insurgent rebel forces and government control of the country’s vast diamond mining operations.

Francis also spoke about how sport had brought temporary peace to the land, especially with organized soccer games on the sandy white beaches in his hometown of Freetown. The games were a welcomed distraction for boys and girls who were wartime refugees. Even now as the war babies of the ’90s have become actual adults, many are still refugees without home and often, without a limb which was lost during mortar fire or a landmine explosion. The country has developed a popular amputee soccer league with players that Francis describes as exciting and skilled. Sierra Leone also has supported the Leone Stars, a professional soccer team that has never qualified for the World Cup.

The country of Sierra Leone has been ranked as one of the poorest in the world. News articles addressed rampant rumors that Francis was so poverty stricken as a teenager, he had to run in borrowed spikes in many of his international competitions. He confirmed that a couple of days after he finished second in the Commonwealth Games, a gracious media person handed him money just so he could phone his mother who had migrated to London to escape the atrocities of poverty and malnutrition that plagued her homeland in Africa.

In his post-Olympic years, Francis has worked on special youth peace projects with the United Nations to promote the value of sport as a low cost, high-impact tool that can service the psychological and physical needs of victims of disasters and emergencies. Two years before Sierra Leone’s civil war ended, he created the Sport for Peace Festival in his home country explaining that something as simple as a soccer game can represent normality, promote social integration and provide post-trauma relief.

Success with the Sport for Peace Festival led to Dove-Edwin’s selection as coach in the 2002 Commonwealth Games which was the first time residents of Sierra Leone were permitted to legally leave the country after the war. None of the country’s track competitors medaled that year and most sought asylum in a new country as they purposefully defected from Africa. Francis explains that permanently escaping from a country that is poverty stricken or plagued by political unrest is common in international sports. Even at the London Olympics just a short year ago, as many as 20 athletes from Africa (but many more from Cuba) defected after their competition ended.

In 2005, Francis joined a host of other Olympians as part of the Mali Youth Peace Games. In addition to competition were educational sessions highlighting solutions for the ongoing struggles in Africa associated with famine, malnutrition, poor infrastructure and corrupt governments. In 2012, he worked through the World Olympian Association to create a royal experience at an Officer’s Club by Buckingham Palace for children of some of the poorest Burroughs of London. It was the highlight of the Tiffin University Olympic Academic Experience.

In a chance meeting this week while catching up in London before heading to lecture in Vienna Austria, Francis and I encountered Abu, one of the 2012 Olympic coaches. Listening to their conversations after taking a few pictures in front of what is left of the Olympic stadium, it was apparent that there is more than an appreciation for elite sport that binds their roots to Sierra Leone.

Francis does return to Africa. In fact, he returns this month to participate in voting in conjunction with the Sierra Leone’s National Olympic Committee. He will also engage in planning sessions to enhance the humanitarian youth project for the 2016 Tiffin University’s Olympic Academic Experience in Brazil.

While traveling the world, Francis has found a special place in his heart for Tiffin University where he will return for one more semester in the fall to lecture on sport and create deeper connections in our community. Tiffin is indeed fortunate for the wealth of inspiring opportunities afforded by higher education to bring someone like Francis on campus for a few short months. I can’t wait until late August to say “Welcome back.”

Stay tuned next month for more interesting and inspiring sport stories from around the world to our small community in northwest Ohio.

Bonnie Tiell is the Associate Professor of Sports Management at?Tiffin University.