Sports science in Africa

Posted on June 5, 2016 12:56 am

Sports science is taking roots in Africa thanks to a growing number of sport scientist and performance scientist.There has been an increase for sports scientists with PhD but what has been the challenge is to establish whether some of them are accredited with reputable Sport Science institutions in or outside of the continent.The reality is that in professional sport there are many practitioners who are not accredited. And there are many who are not sport scientists in the way many people understand the term science and that is, they do not have formal recognised qualifications.To sought credible answers on what exactly sports science is all about, I ended up realising that the situation is not limited to Africa.A Finnish friend who has spent past 12 years working as an accredited sport scientist in Canada told me the same issue was prevalent there. Particularly in Ice hockey but this has been slowly but surely changing.In the Canada, accrediting sport scientists has become the norm and for more than 15 years now and the country is developing its scheme in tandem with the sport industry.Canada has a code of conduct that its accredited members work within and if they work outside this code, they face de-registration.This accreditation is not without its faults but accreditation has become increasingly requested by sport employers, with professional sports increasingly stipulating accreditation as a requirement when advertising their positions.

As a result, accreditation has to be worth possessing among African sport scientist if they are to be of any value to a practitioner and a stipulation by an employer provides that value. Similarly an accreditation has to be of value to the industry it serves and accreditation organisations need to work extremely hard to gain credibility by engaging with sport institutes and national sporting organisations. Importantly, accredited practitioners have progressed within the sport industry especially in South Africa and have gained influential positions, accreditation has unsurprisingly become more widely accepted as the “norm”.The Finn told me the starting point for accreditation is supervised experience, where the “probationary sport scientist” is supervised by an accredited sport scientist for over 600 hours of practise. Having demonstrated competency of practise the individual can register as an accredited sport scientist. In Finland, such individuals will generally hold a post-graduate degree and be required to re-accredit every three to five years depending on the sport by demonstrating ongoing competency and professional development.He also revealed that there is a further level termed High Performance Sport Accreditation commonly known as HSPA for those seeking to provide support to high-performance sport programmes.To gain HPSA accreditation, scientist will go through thoroughness of the process but the value of having their practise peer-reviewed. He added that such rigorous systems have great worth to employers who can trust the person interviewing for the role has relevant and worthwhile qualifications and most importantly will work using evidence-based practise and within a code of conduct.

It appears that across African sport there are a significant number of non-accredited practitioners operating. Many are well qualified and highly experienced.It is therefore clear to me that African sport should work more closely with international accreditation bodies to deliver an industry-standard accreditation system which insures that sport scientists require accreditation to gain employment.Such an accreditation system should value competency and evidence-based practise and allow existing practitioners with years of experience, but who might not possess a PhD, to gain accreditation.Overall, Africa is moving towards a new era of health problems related to lifestyle and inactivity, while at the same time sporting activities are enjoying a high profile in the community. Therefore, there is an increasing need for qualified specialists with an understanding of the relationship between exercise and health.Qualifications in exercise testing and prescription for health, fitness and sport are becoming increasingly attractive in the employment market across Africa.No doubt exercise and sport science degree will provide a very strong pathway to a variety of exciting and rewarding careers for those who study it. Graduates benefit from a comprehensive approach to the study of exercise and sport science encompassing all aspects of physical health for the entire population and currently Africa has over 1 billion people which provides enormous job opportunities.

Contador Harrison