insidesport:with MICHAEL KARIATI
Zimbabwe is celebrating its 40th anniversary following a long and winding journey that chronicles more failures than successes in international sport.
It is a fact that Zimbabweans have had something to cheer about in the 40 years of independence, but sadly that joy has been restricted to individual glory rather than at national team level.
It can be argued that the women’s hockey team won a gold medal at the 1980 Olympic Games and that the netball team reached the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup, but that cannot be compared to Kirsty Coventry’s seven Olympic medals or Cara Black’s five grand slam titles.
It is hard to disagree that the Mighty Warriors also brought joy by qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games, but that too is nowhere near to Evan Stewart, Nick Price and Samson Muripo winning world titles and reaching world number one status.
There are places too in Zimbabwe’s well-documented sporting history for the likes of Charles Manyuchi, Langton Tinago, Proud “Kilimanjaro” Chinembiri, Sarah Jane Murphy, Tracey Cox-Smythe, Tony Johnstone, and Rutendo Nyahora, who also posted memorable performances across the globe.
Yet, on the other hand, success has been hard to come by for most of Zimbabwe’s national teams.
The Zimbabwe rugby team — the Sables —- qualified for the 1987 and 1991 World Cup finals, but that was before other African nations became serious with rugby.
The Sables have now been overtaken by the likes of the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Namibia, and Tunisia, and are no longer strong contenders for a place at the World Cup.
The Chevrons too have lost their way in the corridors of World Cup cricket. Having lost automatic qualification due to a change in the qualification process, the Chevrons failed to make it to the 2019 global festival after losing to — of all teams — Hong Kong, and, for that matter, at home.
In fact, the Chevrons are no longer the revered force of the 80s and 90s, and now opponents prefer to play the Zimbabweans over and over again rather than avoid them.
Not to mention the Warriors, who, although, qualified for the 2004, 2006, 2017 and 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, have on all the occasions failed to make it to the knockout stages of the competition.
At the 2019 finals, the Warriors produced probably their worst performance picking up only one point in three matches, including a 4-0 spanking at the hands of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Davis Cup team too has fallen from grace to grass. Once Africa’s top tennis nation in 1998, Zimbabwe are now in depths of despair deep in the Euro-Africa Zone Group 11 having once been in the elite World Group.
It should be placed on record that the reason why Zimbabwe was at the top in tennis in the 90s was through the efforts of Byron and Wayne Black — who were products of Don Black’s home development programme.
It is also a fact that the likes of Coventry, Stewart, Murphy, Cox-Smythe and Manyuchi are all also products of the home development programme and not those of the national junior development programme.
In fact, the national junior development programme does not have any products to talk of because it does not exist at all despite the fact that there is the Sport and Recreation Commission (SRC).
It would be unfair to ignore the connection between Zimbabwe’s gradual decline in international sport and the country’s lack of a well-oriented national junior development programme.
In other countries, every national sporting association has a government grant for its junior development programme, but not in Zimbabwe, where sport is viewed more as entertainment rather than as an industry.
Ironically, the SRC demands every association to produce its development programme, but what they do with it, nobody knows.
If the nation really wants to achieve more in the next 40 years than those gone by, then there is need to look at where exactly we are getting it wrong and what exactly needs to be done.
In the cold light of the day, the fact remains that money is the major drawback and the government needs to start investing not only in junior development, but also in all teams representing Zimbabwe in international engagements.
More so, all talented junior athletes identified in the rural and remote areas need to be given the opportunity to nurture their talents before being forwarded to the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee for further training.
That is not all — those teams that have been withdrawing from international participation due to non-availability of funds need to be supported, and be given the chance to compete regionally and internationally.
That is not all — a committee also needs to be set up to raise funds for all national sports teams and not only for the senior men’s soccer team, the Warriors, as has always been the case.
Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister Kirsty Coventry has promised to meet all national sporting associations to find out what exactly they need — but when ?
The past 40 years have not been all that a bed of roses, but years to come could be better only if the right things are done first. However, the government must understand the value of investing in sport.
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