HomeSportCoventry sparkles in forgettable year

Coventry sparkles in forgettable year

Ndamu Sandu/ Enock Muchinjo

SWIMMING sensation Kirsty Coventry and paralympic champion Elliot Mujaji were the highlights of the 2004 sporting year while boardroom squabbles reared their

ugly head in soccer, cricket and rugby.

The 21-year-old Coventry won three medals — gold, silver and bronze — sparking wild celebrations after 24 years of waiting for an Olympic award.

Zimbabwe had last won a medal in 1980 after the Golden Girls of hockey triumphed in Moscow.

The camaraderie that engulfed Kirsty’s arrival home was a fitting tribute to a heroine notwithstanding those that tried to use her success for political mileage. Coventry won gold in the 200 metres backstroke event, silver in the 100 metres backstroke and bronze in the 200 metres medley in August, a performance that would leave the whole world green with envy.

In the face of adversity other people crumble but not Elliot Mujaji. The Shabanie Mine athlete struggled to raise money for the Paralympic games and slipped out of the country without his manager.

Mujaji put the frustration behind him and won a gold medal in the 100 metres category.

Cricket also hogged the limelight, albeit for the wrong reasons.

In April 15 white players and members of the senior team rebelled against Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) over the expulsion of skipper Heath Streak.

The aftermath of that was devastating for local cricket, as a batch of young and inexperienced players were thrown into the international fray, and as expected, the team led by 21-year-old captain Tatenda Taibu was found wanting. The team has been beaten in all the 20 one-day international matches it has played since April, the highlight of that being the dismissal by a record 35 runs by Sri Lanka in Harare in May.

On the Test front, the Zimbabwe side posed a serious threat to the integrity of Test cricket, which is played by 10 elite cricket nations. Heavy defeats by Sri Lanka in May forced ZC and the International Cricket Council (ICC) to suspend the country’s four remaining Test matches for the year 2004.

The team is currently en route to Bangladesh where they are to resume Test commitments against the hosts. One of the three rebel players, batsman Barney Rogers, is part of that touring party to the sub-continent. The other rebel, Gavin Ewing, played against England.

While results on the field were appalling, things were not any better on the administration side, with charges of racism being levelled by Streak and his fellow rebels against ZC board members, acting managing director Ozias Bvute, selectors’ convener Macsood Ebrahim and Tawengwa Mukuhlani.

An ICC panel probing the Peter Chingoka-led board absolved ZC of any act of racism, but the association was however told to deal with its errant directors. None of the ICC recommendations have so far been implemented. The remaining rebels have given it as a condition for coming back to the international fold.

The administration woes continued with allegations of extortion against three officials, capping an awful year for the ZC. The administrators — Mashonaland Cricket Association general manager Givemore Makoni and national selector Stephen Mangongo — are accused of demanding money from Takashinga Cricket Club players who have played provincial and national representative cricket.

Traditional sponsors Bata and Nissan have pulled out of their deals with ZC, citing financial difficulties, while talks with main team sponsor Old Mutual are still in progress. Pakistan sports goods company Ihsan Sports and Dubai-based Taj TV have taken over from Bata and Nissan as the kit and ODI sponsors respectively.

In rugby, the once fast growing sport continued with its free-fall, only to be redeemed by an historic qualification to the IRB Youth World Cup by the Zimbabwe Schools Under-19 side.

The senior national team, the Sables, were thumped 8-68 by perennial rivals Namibia in the semi-final of the Africa Cup after a shaky 17-3 home victory over minnows Uganda in the deciding preliminary match. The season had started on a bright note, with the national team putting up a commendable show to outclass Kenya 19-8 in a friendly at Bulawayo’s Hartsfield Ground in August. Overall, the team’s playing standards continue to betray the name of the great green and white striped Sables side that used to be regular participants in the World Cup and saw world-class teams like Italy and Romania fall on their visits to Harare or Bulawayo.

Brighton Chivandire, the former national team powerful lock-forward who has won the most caps for Zimbabwe, was appointed Sables coach at the beginning of the season amid wide opposition from some quarters of the rugby fraternity including the provincial Matabeleland Rugby Board.

Germany based eightman Costa Dinha took over the captaincy from axed skipper Victor Olonga who led a rebellion against the appointment of former Sables great Alex Nichols as Sables coach.

The sevens version of the game was also not spared of the whip, with the national sevens side, the Cheetahs, failing to qualify for the Sevens World Cup set for next year. The team’s dismal performance in the qualifying tournament in Zambia earlier this year prompted the International Rugby Board (IRB) not to invite Zimbabwe to the 2004 World Sevens Series, an annual tournament the Cheetahs have always played in.

Fraud charges rocked the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) towards season end, with top officials accusing each other of misappropriation of funds and mal-administration. A new ZRU executive led by retained president Bryn Williams and new vice-presidents John Stanger and Mike Mickelsfield has promised to deal with these issues, acting on the content of the union’s audit report for the year.

In domestic rugby, Old Hararians maintained their stranglehold on the local game, clinching their fourth consecutive national league championship. However, sponsor Lion lager pulled out of the league, preferring to sponsor a one-off tournament instead. Zimbabwe rugby is reeling under lack of sponsorship and the union might be again forced to subsidize its annual grant from the IRB to run the national league and national teams for the 2005 season.

In all this gloom came the Under-19’s to re-ignite hope in Zimbabwe rugby. A well-drilled team, which plays with a lot of flair and strength, the youth side defied all odds to overcome over-confident Tunisia 12-8 in the qualifying final a fortnight ago to secure a berth at the Under 19 World Cup in Durban, South Africa.

The golf season passed quietly, but the sport has never been the same again since the flagship Zimbabwe Open tournament disappeared from the local golf calendar after the 2001 edition. The Open, which was part of the prestigious Southern African Sunshine Tour, attracted top golfers from around the globe. The Zimbabwe Open has been used as a stepping-stone to world stardom by top golfers like Zimbabwe’s former world number one Nick Price, current world number one Vijay Singh of Fiji and South Africa’s Ernie Els, who has also topped the world rankings.

The Zimbabwe Professional Golfers Association (ZPGA) season had only nine tournaments, and the total prize money of $130 million in the season makes a mockery of professional sport. At least the paltry rewards have done little in discouraging upcoming players in taking up golf, who continue to join the amateur and junior golf associations.

Administrative wrangling continued unabated at Zifa House. In-fighting became a permanent feature of the Zifa diary while administration of the association was left to rot.

Members engaged in clandestine manoeuvres advocating a “vote of no confidence” mantra while Zifa burned.

The Sports and Recreation Commission had to intervene and imposed three members on the Zifa Board — Rafiq Khan, Wyatt Mpofu and Remmigio Makoni.

Former Premier Soccer League secretary general Leslie Gwindi thought he had landed the PSL top post after beating acting chairman Tendai Madzorera 7-6 in the election in May before Zifa nullified his victory citing irregularities in the holding of elections. An election re-run saw Madzorera romping home to lead PSL.

The year 2004 belonged to Caps United after winning their second championship since 1980.

Enterprising leftback Cephas Chimedza who “defected” from Dynamos at the beginning of the season was voted Soccer Star of the Year becoming the second defender to achieve such a feat in the history of the Premiership.

Warriors coach Charles Mhlauri was voted the coach of the year.

The Warriors made their maiden appearance at the African Cup of Nations under the guidance of Sunday Marimo.

Technical shortcomings were attributable to Warriors loss.

Marimo left the team in a huff during the course of the year citing interference from Zifa. Rahman Gumbo, who took over barely lasted four matches, as a defeat to Nigeria in September was the final straw. Mhlauri is now in charge.

Death struck robbing the nation of Caps United’s Blessing Makunike, Shingirai Arlon, Gary Mashoko and James Pswarayi of Sporting Lions — all through accidents.

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