THE 2012 London Paralympic Games kicked off last week with Zimbabwe being represented by two athletes — wheelchair tennis player, Nyasha Mharakurwa and two-time Paralympic gold medalist, Elliot Mujaji.
Report by Albert Marufu
Though the Olympic spirit lies in participation only, Zimbabwe, like any other nation at the Games, expects medals.
Twice, Mujaji defied poor preparations to win a gold medal in 2000 and 2004, but now at the age of 40, he might struggle to match the younger generation of athletes.
If the single hand amputee strikes gold, then that would be something of a miracle, for the athlete had hung up his spikes to take up coaching at Shabanie Athletics club. He only started preparing for the Games a few months ago after being awarded a wild card.
Mujaji is in London merely because of his historical achievements while the 88th ranked Marakurwa, who is only limited to tournaments in South Africa, qualified for the Games through the Bipartite Commission slot because of his high ranking.
It’s a pity that the country did not see value in him as he failed to find resources to take part in the qualifying tournaments.
While the government should be applauded for chipping in with US$70 000 for the athletes before they left for London, the money came way too late!
According to Zimbabwe Olympic Committee (ZOC), it takes four years to come up with a medal winner, but no such programmes are in place for disabled athletes in this country.
In our country, it is very unfortunate that the only time that the nation talks about disabled athletes, is towards the Paralympic Games.
Not many games are being organised for these athletes and they have to rely more on the poorly-funded National Paralympic Games and Danhiko Games.
Moreover, a disabled athlete who uses a wheelchair faces more difficulties in the country, owing to the high cost of acquiring and maintenaning the wheelchair.
Tyres for a wheelchair that is used in wheelchair tennis, basketball or athletics costs around US$150 compared to the ordinary wheelchair tyres which cost approximately US$20.
In an economy such as ours, where people are struggling to get three meals a day, potential disabled sport persons are being sidelined.
It is noble that the corporate world is chipping in to help these athletes like what Murowa Diamonds did with Mujaji, but often the help comes a little too late.
Since our economy is still struggling, maybe we should invest more in sprints which are not expensive.
This is a call to the corporate world to work closely with the Zimbabwe Paralympic Committee in resuscitating this sector that has fallen victim to a blind eye from the whole country.
There are also problems at our own National Paralympic Games where athletes compete in categories that do not suit their nature of disability due to lack of classification material.
The neglect of disabled sports is also manifested by the fact that no due attention is being given to increase the few qualified classifiers available in Zimbabwe.
However, while not ruling out Houdini acts, it will be folly for us to expect the beautiful Zimbabwean national anthem to be sung after a medal has been bagged.