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Bleak outlook for sport in Zimbabwe


UNLIKE in years gone by, 2021 begins with a dark cloud already hovering above the country’s sports sector.

The Covid-19 virus outbreak early last year affected Zimbabwe sports and eventually many sports codes — notably football, rugby, volleyball and netball failed to take off locally.

But due to financial challenges and government restrictions, most opted to sit out the pandemic and resume competitions this year, but the Covid-19 situation appears to be continuing unabated.

In fact, there is a new wave of the pandemic that has cast doubt over global events such as the Olympics while positives cases are on the rise in the country.

Locally, the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) yesterday suspended all sporting activity in the country, subject to review on January 31.

Standardsport looks at the prospects of some of the sport resuming this season with Covid-19 still ravaging.

The Premier Soccer League was cancelled last year despite feeble attempts by the relevant stakeholders to assist local football get on its feet. In a recent interview with this publication, PSL chief executive Kenny Ndebele said they were looking to resume the league competition in March.

However, the same conditions why football failed to take off last year are still prevailing. Without adequate funding, the majority of the clubs are still unable to finance the testing of players and staff regularly. There are also accommodation and food costs from keeping a team in a bio-bubble environment.

In reality local clubs and players may have to sit out another year without competitive football due to the coronavirus.

The year has also started on the worst possible note for Zimbabwe football with 14 national team players and staff having tested positive for Covid-19 with the country looking to finalise preparations for the Chan finals which begin in two weeks’ time.

Zimbabwean rugby also failed to resume following the outbreak of the pandemic.

Government through the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation together with the SRC, approved the resumption of training and competitive activities of rugby three months ago.

And just like football, rugby is classified as a high risk sport which why it took long for it to be allowed to resume activities.

Despite benefiting from a shared 276 490 euro grant given by Rugby Africa to its affiliates for the successful and safe preparations for the restart of its 2021 rugby season, the money is too little to ensure the resumption of local competitions this year.

However, it may come in handy in ensuring that national teams prepare for international events.

The ZRU is bracing for a busy schedule this year with the Sables set to participate in the revamped Rugby Africa Cup and the SuperSport Challenge.

The Cheetahs are also scheduled to take part in the Olympic Game qualifiers.

But with Covid-19 still ravaging, the international programme may also be cancelled.

Cricket appears to be the only team sport with the financial muscle to stage local competitions and it likely that most of the activities will go ahead as planned.

Late last year Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) successfully managed to fulfil an international engagement away in Pakistan while three domestic competitions were successfully staged.

ZC introduced one club competition for men, the US$10 000 National Premier League (NPL) and two events for women cricketers which were successfully hosted.

Barring another national lockdown, cricket is likely to be able to carry out with their plans for the current season as well as travel for international tours as they bid to pick points for the 2023 ICC World Cup.

Netball is among the 32 national associations that have been approved so far to resume activities and competitions; and are looking to get the ball rolling this season.

The sport is also looking forward to a hectic 2021 season where the national team will compete at the Pent Series in Namibia around midyear.
African Championships are also scheduled this year while the association has expressed its desire to run the Super League, Division One and Division Two competitions.

While international assignments are possible, it’s difficult to see domestic competition taking off to due to financial constraints.

Individual sports
A lot of individual sports such as golf, tennis, swimming and triathlon have managed to resume.

And the country will be looking to get some cheer from the low risk sports this year.

Triathlon managed to hold a number of competitions in the second half of the year in 2020 and is already gearing for the 2021 Africa Triathlon Cup at Troutbeck, Nyanga, next month.

In athletics a number of marathons such as the PPC Matopos Marathon and the Victoria Falls Marathon had to be held virtually. It looks like this year most marathon events locally will be held virtually.

There are also high hopes that swimming will be one of the sport codes that well be able to carry out activities and competitions this year.

Tennis has also held a number of local events while Davis Cup star Benjamin Lock has also been active on the ATP Challenger Tour.

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