Inside Sport with MICHAEL KARIATI
“The national team is the pride and display window of the nation. There is nothing that can thrill the nation more than the success of their national team when playing international games,” remarked former Bayern Munich coach Rudi Gutendorf.
That is exactly what is happening in Zimbabwe and that thrill has been brought about by the Zimbabwe national netball team — the Gems — which has made the whole world sit up and take notice after splendid performances at the 2019 Netball World Cup.
Even some who do not follow sport now know that there is a Zimbabwe team called the Gems while those in foreign lands now know that in Zimbabwe there is a formidable national netball team.
“When I heard people saying Gems, Gems, at first, I thought people were talking about diamonds. Only to realise later what exactly it was, the Zimbabwe netball team,” says football follower, Oliver Musongoro, who supports Dynamos football club.
Unfortunately, the ordinary Zimbabwean does not know Ursula Ndlovu, Perpetua Siyachitema, Mercy Mukwadi, Joice Takaidza, Sharon Bwanali, Patricia Maoladi or the names of the players who make up the Gems otherwise those names would have become the talk of the streets rights now.
Whatever it is, what the Gems have done will be talked about for as long as there is a country called Zimbabwe, and for the likes of team captain Siyachitema and her colleagues, what they have done will remain in their lives forever.
More importantly is the fact that this team has an average age of 25 years, which makes qualifying for the next World Cup to be held in South Africa a strong possibility.
Yet this is a team that was completely forgotten even after qualifying for the World Cup — the pinnacle of any sport on the planet. In fact, the team’s finances only got intact a few days before departure for Liverpool after begging through a video that circulated on social media.
That is the tragedy of Zimbabwean sport that those who really need help do not get it and then when success comes, everyone wants to be associated with them as was the case with three Cabinet ministers accompanying the team to Liverpool.
Everyone agrees that the Gems were fantastic and what even made their achievement sweeter was the fact that it came through the hands of women, who over the years have recorded the best sporting achievements for Zimbabwe but without getting the recognition they deserve.
It is on record that Zimbabwe’s first ever Olympic medal came courtesy of the women’s hockey team at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. This was followed by the seven medals that Kirsty Coventry won at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games and the Zimbabwe women soccer team’s qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Sadly, though, the achievers have not received the sort of respect they deserve as upon return from the Olympic Games in 2012, the Mighty Warriors received an insulting $5 thank you from the authorities, while the Gems’ preparations were not the best due to inadequate funding..
Ironically, at the same time, the Zimbabwean government was busy mobilising financial support for the men’s soccer team, the Warriors, who were going to a far much less important tournament, the Africa Cup of Nations.
It is a matter of debate what could have been of the Gems had they not been neglected and received the sort of support in their preparations as happened to the other 15 teams that made the journey to Liverpool for the netball festival.
Their success, and worldwide acclaim, however, could force a rethink in the manner women’s sport is perceived in the small southern African nation. What the
Gems have done should be a lesson for the government and Zimbabweans at large that all national teams are important, be it a women’s or men’s team, a football or a hockey team.
What remains now is for the government to set a good example by rewarding the Gems handsomely for painting good Zimbabwe’s name on the international front.
Money is important, but not the most important, and the girls need something they will in their lives, reflect on and say: “This is what I got for doing Zimbabwe proud at the 2019 Netball World Cup.”
That will help to spur other sportsperson to strive to do even better than what the Gems have done. The whole world saw what the Gems did and they are watching
what will happen to the team when they get back home.
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