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2009: Not Quite the Real Thing

ATTEMPT as one may to run away from the reality that stares in the face, measuring the success — or lack of it — of major Zimbabwean sporting disciplines in 2009 cannot be a task in isolation.

The more you try to evaluate the year, the more the forgettable 2008 comes into the present context.

Whatever was achieved by our major sports this year was mere consolation for the crushing failures of 2008.

Winning the Cosafa Senior Challenge Trophy –– as the Zimbabwe National team did in September for a record fourth time –– can never pacify the tragedy of last year’s failure to qualify for both the 2010 World Cup and African Nations Cup finals.

In fact, as we have previously stated in this paper, this “success” could have a negative impact as it gives the nation a false sense of the state of our football at the national level.

Yes, it is a matter of pride for Zimbabwe to have been awarded two extra slots in continental club competitions, a clear recognition of the strength of domestic football here.

Yet this mustn’t blind us. Too often in Zimbabwe we fail to put things into perspective. Real Madrid’s enviable success in European competitions does not necessarily help Spanish national pride, as much as Manchester United’s trailblazing record in the English Premiership cannot remove the stubborn reminder that England last won the World Cup in 1966.

For as long as we fail at the Warriors level, Zimbabwe will still continue to dig for bragging rights from such insignificant competitions as the Cosafa.

Look at the Democratic Republic of Congo. They produced African club champions in TP Mazembe –– largely due to the efforts of an individual, wealthy owner Moise Katumbi.

At the national team level, the DRC failed to qualify for next month’s Nations Cup in Angola.

It’s not difficult to explain this sharp contrast and also draw comparison with Zimbabwe. Because Katumbi invests a lot of money in his club, he is able to retain total control of the team, thus assuring accountability and firm corporate governance.

On the other hand, and typically so in Zimbabwe in particular and Africa in general, it’s not the same story at the national association level. The free-for-all tactics, power struggles, the egoistic foreign-based players turning out a few days before a crucial match, lack of insurance cover for players and, bonuses — all add up to the national team’s woes.

Similarly, winning the inaugural CAR Southern Trophy –– as the Zimbabwe rugby team did in the year –– can never replace the disappointment of failing to make it to the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

The Sables’ cousins, the national Sevens side the Cheetahs, were the best performing Zimbabwean team in the year by virtue of winning the bowl trophy at the IRB Sevens World Cup in March. But their showing in the first two legs of the IRB World Sevens Series in Dubai and South Africa has quickly tainted their world-class exploits.

Turning to cricket, the national side’s calendar year was a season of potential rather than real gusto. The highlight of the year was hammering Kenya 5-0 away in February, before completing a routine double over the East Africans with a 4-1 series win in October.

Against stronger opposition they still continued to struggle. Bangladesh won 4-1 twice, home and away, and South Africa clean-swept a two-match ODI series. While results were not entirely an accurate reflection of overall performance, it exposed the team’s glaring lack of a winning formula.

But then again, while results are still in the negative, off the field the new spirit of inclusiveness in the game is a positive sign.

Driving the restoration is the new franchise system in domestic cricket, which has already been endorsed by no less a person than the great former Zimbabwe captain and coach Dave Houghton as well as ex-Australia and South Africa player Kepler Wessels, whose son Rikki Wessels signed for the Kwekwe-based Midwest Rhinos.

The system has already seen exiled players returning home to play, and if allowed to proceed undisturbed by squabbles that threatened to tear apart the game a few years ago, the best 11 Zimbabwean cricketers will represent the country on any given day.

And with these signs, the return of Test cricket may not be far off, after all.

Individual Exploits

Note how, deliberately, we left out these true ambassadors of Zimbabwean sport from the rest so as to give a clear distinction.

Zimbabwe has always been spoilt with world-class athletes in individual disciplines. While we are obviously proud of these men and women, their efforts need to be buttressed by team sports in order to make this a truly sporting nation.

Roger Federer may be arguably one of the greatest tennis players of all time, but that won’t make Switzerland such a great sporting nation, as Australia for example, who boast the reigning cricket world champions, a very good rugby team which used to be the world’s best, former Davis Cup tennis champions and a decent soccer team that will participate in the 2010 World Cup.

Indeed, in the year 2009 Zimbabwe’s individual athletes shone like the sun, again.  Swimming ace Kirsty Coventry was the pick of the crop yet again. She recorded a record-breaking performance in the women’s 200m backstroke final at the Fina World Championships in Rome, Italy, in August where she set a new world record of 2 minutes 04,81 seconds.

Female tennis player Cara Black won five doubles titles with American partner Liezel Huber, but no Grand Slams.

Other top-notch performers were karataker Samson Muripo, who clinched the middleweight title at the inaugural Kyokushin Union World Cup in Osaka, Japan, in May, and Comrades Marathon winner Stephen Muzhingi.

That said, all is not lost, at least, in Zim sport. If we are able to export top-class players like Tendai Mtawarira and David Pocock there is no reason why — if full normalcy returns to the country — we cannot assemble an internationally recognised rugby team like we used to have.

If we produced a quality cricketer such as Andy Flower, who is the coach of England now, there is no good reason why our national cricket team cannot compete favourably with the top Test nations.

If such prodigies as 19-year-old Knowledge Musona can burst onto the scene to illuminate South African football as he has done- and a second Zimbabwean player is on the verge of playing in the English Premiership- there is no reason why qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and even going far in the
Nations Cup in future cannot be achieved.


Enock Muchinjo

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