Athletics used to be a big sport in Zimbabwe.
Well, it is actually supposed to be an even bigger sport today.
But that is not the situation on the track and field today as the sport, by day, falls into oblivion due to a number of issues, but mainly funding, sponsorship and leadership.
Don’t get me wrong on issues of leadership-National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe (NAAZ) president Joseph Mutsauki, who took over from former Zimbabwe Olympic Committee (ZOC) chief executive officer Robert Mutsauki, has been in charge for almost a decade.
He has survived de-registration by the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) and won all subsequent elections, almost unopposed since then.
He has seen athletics evolve from the Amateur Athletics Association of Zimbabwe (AAAZ) to Athletics Zimbabwe to NAAZ when he won the battle against the SRC.
He has fought off the challenges of renowned administrators like Bheki Khumalo and Thabani Gonye to steer the ship out of troubled waters, if indeed the ship is out of the troubled waters, which does not seem to be the case in athletics today.
Having taken over from Mutsauki explains the obvious friction that has always existed between NAAZ and ZOC and the latest example being last year during the preparations for the inaugural Singapore Youth Games.
While NAAZ wanted money for the training camp for the participating athletes, ZOC demanded a budget first.
NAAZ has taken solace in the cash-rich Twalumba Holdings Kujatana Kubotu Half Peace Marathon, run by the diversified Harare-based company in Binga every year.
The event started on a low note, with local athletics four years ago and moved to attract regional competitors last year.
This year, according to Nkululeko Sibanda, the sponsor, it will go international as the company moves to improve on the technical and organisational aspects of the sport to meet international standards.
The Hope Fountain Race failed to take place last year, again due to financial problems, while the Coca-Cola Half Marathon, which used to be held in Bulawayo, has fizzled out, leaving Bellevue Spar to fill in the void with an end of year 10km road race.
Financial problems have also hit mines, who used to run possibly the most exciting sports event in Zimbabwe-the Chamber of Mines-Shabanie Mine, Gaths Mine, Ziscosteel and Hwange Colliery have not been able to sponsor their traditional annual track and field championships due to obvious economic meltdown and until the situation improves, the sport will continue to suffer.
A glance at the 2011 calendar reveals little about corporate sponsorship for the sport with just four events likely to have prize money-Friendly Stores half marathon in March, Kujatana Kubotu in Binga in September, Dr Mzee in Gutu and the Spar 10km road race in Bulawayo.
According to the calendar, the mines are planning a comeback with Shabanie having the field and track in May, the Hwange Colliery Championships in May and the Freda Rebecca race in July, otherwise the rest of the events will be at the athletes’ expense.
Our neighbours, South Africa despite losing major sponsor Nedbank after their mishandling of the Caster Semenya case, still have the well sponsored Yellow Pages series on their calendar.
This is a typical example of what happens when you have bad leadership, you lose sponsors.
In Botswana, the Botswana Development Corporation, mobile operator Mascom and national teams’ technical sponsor Puma are also heavily involved in athletics, with Cuba still providing training for sportsmen and women in athletics.
Back home, there is no corporate support, just a few supermarkets interested in giving back the little they have to the community; big companies, worried about mismanagement of funds and soiling of their corporate brands have kept their purses zipped up.
And that has affected results on the track.
Look back at 1991 and tell me is any athlete today will beat Fabian Muyaba’s 100m national record of 10,15s achieved in Odessa, the US or the 200m, record of 20,12s set by Brian Dzingai in Austin, the US in 2004 or worse still Lewis Banda’s 44,58s run in the 400m race on May 15 2004 in Tucson, also in the US?
In 1996, Savieri Ngidhi ran 1,45,03s in the 800m race in Italy-a record which still stands today while Phillimon Hanneck has three records that have stood the test of time. In the 1 500m race in Grosseto, Italy in 1991, he clocked 3,35,76s, the following year in Hechtel-Eksel in Belgium he came good in 7,42,06s in the 3 000m race before running 13,13,50s in the 5 000m race on August 8 1994 in Rome, Italy.
On the field, Ndabezinhle Mdlongwa’s triple jump leap of 17,34m in Lafayette, US, has been unchallenged since 1998 while three years back Ngoni Makusha’s long jump national record of 8,30m achieved in Des Moines, in the US is still to be bettered.
In the women’s category, no one in this era will come close to the likes of Winnet Dube, Julia Sakala, Larissa Bakassa and Samukeliso Moyo.
Dube dashed to a 11,36s finish in the 100m race on April 11 in 2004 in Durban, South Africa, following her earlier 23,23s in the 200m race in Pretoria.
The two records have found no challengers since then. In claiming the national record of 53,09s in the 400m race at the College Station in the US, Bakassa had no idea that seven years down the line, the record would still be intact.
Sakala had her times too, running 2,00,49s in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in the 800m race on September 18 1998, 4,07,62s in the 1 500m race at the same games three days later and then 8,57,69s on August 14 1993 in the 3 000m race in the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
Moyo is the 5 000m champion after clocking 15,40,63s on March 8 2000 in Adelaide, Australia, in the world championships.
Some of these records were set when the athletes did not win the events, but it is important to note, they still stand today.
Stephen Muzhingi, two times Comrades Marathon winner, sweated and toiled from his own pocket and when he won the title last year, he was never recognised except by the City of Harare.
At some stage when NewsDay Sport sought his contact details from NAAZ, they had no idea about his whereabouts.
What is clear for now, is that athletics is in the doldrums and if two things do not happen-funding and sponsorship and leadership renewal, it will sink further into oblivion.