AFTER reading last week’s exploration of the death of local rugby, basketball administrator and coach William Chimuchere felt challenged to also define the state of his beloved sport. He has for the past 25 years witnessed the rise and fa
ll of basketball.
Chimuchere, 44, holds a coaching certificate in basketball as well as several sports administration qualifications. He was a founder member of the well-renowned Eastern Lakers team and played a major role in developing the national league in the early 1990s.
BASKETBALL is now a pale shadow of what it had developed into in the late 1990s. In fact, there shouldn’t be any basketball to talk about in this country. What with the drastically dilapidated infrastructure, lack of a coherent national leadership as well as structures and investment.
Like many other sports such as rugby, as outlined in this column last week, basketball had inherited a developmental structure at independence that was sustained over the years.
Problems started in 1996 when a group of basketball administrators developed hunger for power and started squabbling. The Mashonaland Basketball Association (MBA), then under the leadership of Roderick Takawira, had made strides towards establishing sanity within the sport and charting it on a developmental course.
The MBA had introduced a coherent junior league. Youngsters from all suburbs in Harare as well as other places had been grouped into teams. Talent identification and nurturing was the major thrust.
Everybody was impressed by the well-organised developmental plan and sponsors literally fell over each other to be associated with such a noble course.
It will be remembered how Lobels provided the youngsters with bread and buns, Lyons Maid giving out refreshments and the Sports for All Project came in with logistical planning. The youngsters met in suburbs every weekend for training as well as matches against other teams.
Long-serving civil servant, Stephen Chifunyise, and Sports and Recreation Commission senior administrator Joseph Muchechetere were patrons of the junior programme. Their presence epitomised the glamour with which society viewed the junior programme.
The same spirit went up to the national level and was reflected in the National Basketball League where competition was high and talent showcased. The national teams, both women and men at various age groups, also benefited from the harmony enjoyed by the sport.
We had introduced an annual Under-21 inter-provincial tournament that drew participants from across the whole country and through which talent could be identified. It is the same process again that was used to select players for national teams.
Another annual tournament known as the High-Density Extravaganza held in Mabvuku had also become a major event on the national calendar. Teams were also invited from other countries in the region to this tournament.
But the power-hungry group distracted everybody after creating chaos in the sport. Camps were formed at the expense of development of the sport. Things started crumbing as structures suffered the effects of chaos and leadership squabbles.
The people involved in the power conflicts included Bobby Chivaviro, Darlington Masenda and Abban Chirume, who clashed with the Takawira-led administration.
Takawira was eventually removed and that killed the development initiative.
Basketball had become probably the second most popular sport after soccer in the country. But all that went up in smoke as the power squabbles sucked the energy from the sport.
The removal of Takawira didn’t help the sport as envisaged by the new administrators. It instead triggered more chaos as it emerged that the wrong people in most cases were appointed to key positions. Individuals without the knowledge, expertise or experience were thrust into positions of identifying talent and developing it. That gave birth to disaster.
The results, which were inescapable, are there for all to see. We no longer have a system of identifying and developing talent at primary school level, which was a vital component of the sport. The reasons include the lack of qualified coaches, lack of structures as well as sponsorship.
Like mentioned by Itai Dzamara in this column before, sponsors detest associating with a sport embroiled in controversy. They take flight. And they did just that with regards to basketball.
Chaos characterises the national structure as we speak, with efforts to establish a rebel national league gathering momentum without anyone making a serious commitment towards putting off the fire.
It is ridiculous to attempt to discuss the national teams. But for the record, it must be stated that we have not watched a competitive international match involving our national team for over four years now.
That doesn’t suggest the sport has been “sleeping” on the international scene for such a long period! No, it has something to do with this country.
There are no longer qualified coaches in local basketball and one wonders where they have gone. They simply have nothing to keep them in the sport, where they get virtually nothing. Inevitably standards get compromised at matches where anybody can be picked to officiate.
I submit that the other problem that has accelerated the decline of basketball is the flawed national constitution. The constitution defines the sport as “amateur”. This means players are not paid for playing the sport. It has given rise to a lukewarm approach that lacks commitment.
I have heard club and association administrators complain that when they approach the corporate world they are turned down on the grounds that the sport is “amateur”, and for that reason there is no need to put resources into it.
May I suggest that as one of the first corrective steps, the national constitution needs to be changed on its definition of the sport as “amateur”. Thereafter, the corporate world can be approached.
But before that, the basketball house needs to be in order through a leadership audit, overhaul and reorientation. The right people have to be in the positions of leadership and qualified coaches should be brought back to the sport to identify and develop talent.
* Next week, Premier Soccer League pacesetters Caps United’s head coach Charles Mhlauri will be on this column discussing his team’s fine run. He will get the opportunity to probably explain the forces behind his charges’ trailblazing performance and his view on the ongoing debate regarding their muscle to carry on all the way to the title.
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