Zim@42:  mixed fortunes for sport

Tawanda Munthali

Zimbabwe celebrates 42 years of Independence under the theme Leaving No One and No Place Behind. However, The state of the country’s sporting fraternity somehow contradicts with this year’s theme, as the country has made little or no progress in terms of sports development over the 42 years of self-rule.

Sport in the country has failed to live to the billing, although there have been some positive takeaways over the years, with little, insignificant success in some disciplines.

It is on this day back in 1980 when the government set up the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture to look into the needs of the sports sector and a Sports Council was also set up so as to regulate and foster the development of sport in the country. Despite all these efforts, the country still finds itself lagging behind, as sports in the country is in the intensive care unit.

Women in sport

Since Independence, the success story has been centered on the ladies who have flown the national flag high.

The country had looked set for greater heights when just six months into Independence, in July 1980, the field hockey team, “The Golden Girls” defied all odds win gold at the Summer Olympics held in Moscow.

However, the country had to wait for 24 years to taste victory again as the current Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation Kirsty Coventry made a mark at the 2004 Olympics as she reintroduced the nation to the world, winning gold in the swimming category.

The country has eight Olympic medals to its name, with the first being from the field hockey team and all the remaining seven coming from Minister Coventry. 

Despite all their efforts to carry the weight of the whole nation on their shoulders and to bring smiles to the faces of many Zimbabweans, women in sport having been treated as second class citizens, not getting equal recognition as that of their male counterparts.

The country’s women’s national soccer team, the Mighty Warriors, have been impressive, as they have managed to rise to the occasion without much help and they have since played at a stage that their male counterparts have never played on before, the Olympics.

After the 2016 Rio Olympics the players are said to have received $5 and $20 as transport fares for those based in Harare and Bulawayo respectively.

On the other hand, however, when their male counterparts are called up for national duty, they are booked into  luxurious hotels for their camp, whilst the women’s team is subjected to sub-standard facilities, having to make do with staying in make shift camps in places such as ZIFA Village and at one time ZESA Training Centre in Belvedere.

Just recently, Kudakwashe “Take Money” Chivandire made the nation proud as she became the first boxer to bring the WBC title home. For her heroics in the ring as she won the super bantamweight gold championship, she received a befitting hero’s welcome, but that did not change her situation at home. If the playing field was level, she should also have walked home with a full pocket just like what happened to fellow boxer Charles Manyuchi, who got endorsements, as well as $10 000 as a present for defending his WBF world middleweight title.

Chivandire should have received a similar package or more, but all she got was a ride in luxurious vehicles.

Young Natsiraishe Maritsa, early in the year, received the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Women and Sport award for Africa. As she is putting out the fire of early child marriages using taekwondo through sessions in her parents backyard. She hasn’t received much support, but she is dealing with a cancer that has wreaked havoc countrywide. 

Sports infrastructure that is on its knees

On the birth of Zimbabwe, the late music icon Bob Marley flew into the country to perform at the festivities held at Rufaro Stadium, but 42 years later, the very same stadium has become an eyesore.

In a case of how the mighty have fallen, sports infrastructure in the county has gone to the dogs. Infrastructure across the country is now a pale shadow of its former self. After Independence, the country had world-class sports arenas, but it looks as if all that is a thing of the past, as arenas such as the giant National Sports Stadium no longer meet the standards to host international matches.

The Chitungwiza Aquatic Complex, together with the City Sports Centre, both of which hosted the Sixth All Africa Games in 1995, have been reduced to church and music venues.

Years of neglect and lack of investment have seen the demise of stadiums like Danny Bismarck, Rimuka, Motor Action, Baghdad, and Chibuku Stadium, not forgetting Gwanzura. The same has been the contributing factor to the death of Mbare Netball Complex, as well as Les Brown pools.

There have been some efforts to revive venues such as Gwanzura and Rufaro and all this is being done to make sure that the stadiums meet the required international standards and breathe life into stadiums that are part of the country’s history.

Mixed fortunes in grassroots development

Over the years the country has enjoyed the fruits of grassroots development. The likes of Peter Ndlovu and Tatenda Taibu were products of grassroots sports development in their respective disciplines  back in the days.

Also talk of the Moses Chunga famed Kidznet that gave the “seven million” Dynamos fans, as well as football lovers something to smile about, displaying young talent groomed from the junior side, with the likes of then 18-year-old Nyasha Chazika captaining the side, while Norman Maroto wore his Churchill High School uniform for the 2002 Castle Lager Soccer Star of the year awards ceremony.

However, the story of grassroots development in the country has not been all rosy as there have been some ups and downs. Although hanging by a thread, the same avenues are still showing glimpses of hope that something can come out of them as the country has seen young athletes coming to the scene and proving their mettle.

Names that come to mind include the likes of swimming sensations Donata Katai (17) and Unathi Chibanda (9). The former posted a personal best time record at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The same avenue this season has given football lovers talented players that include Thando Ngwenya, Bill Antonio and Jayden Bakare, who have been giving many people goose bumps due to their attacking prowess.

However, it has not been all gloom for our male sports personalities, as some of them left a mark on the international stage.

Warriors’ midfielder, Khama Billiat was in 2017 named as the second best player playing on the continent at the CAF Glo awards.

The country was also well represented in the world’s biggest leagues by players like Norman Mapeza, the first Zimbabwean to play in the Champions post-Independence while turning out for Galatassary, Bruce Grobbelaar, Peter Ndlovu, Benjani Mwaruwari, Marvelous Nakamba, Marshall Munetsi, Silas Songani, Takesure Chinyama, Knowledge Musona, as well as Tino Kadewere, among others.

On the local front things have not been the same as the local football league has been finding it hard to attract the corporate world that once flooded the scene.

The league has lost sponsors for the many tournaments that used to be hosted back in the day, among them the BP Cup, Castle Cup, Cup of Zimbabwe, CBZ Super 8, OK Grand Challenge and the Mbada Diamonds Cup amongst others.

It is not yet Uhuru as local clubs have been finding it hard to replicate the 1998 Dynamos feat that saw the Glamour Boys reaching the CAF Champions League final.

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