Dear President Emmerson Mnangagwa,
BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA & KEVIN MAPASURE
Given the current state of our country which is more divided and polarised than ever, we hope that you have been following the Zimbabwe national men’s football team, the Warriors, as they prepared for battle against Algeria for the right to play at Africa’s biggest football showcase to be hosted by Cameroon next year.
Your Excellency, this is because, sport in general and football in particular, has always served as a great unifier, bringing people together to celebrate the values of nation belonging, unity, commitment, courage and achievement among others.
It perhaps explains why most heads of State place so much significance on sport. Late Rhodesia prime minister Ian Smith was a great cricket player and also loved rowing.
The man you succeeded, the late Robert Mugabe too had a deep affection for the game of cricket. Mugabe, one of Africa’s most controversial leaders is remembered for his famous quote, during England’s historic maiden tour of Zimbabwe in 1996: “Cricket civilises people and creates good gentlemen,” he said. “I want everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe. I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen.”
He was the patron of Zimbabwe Cricket, which we assume enabled him to keep tabs on a sport he loved.
Throughout the world, athletes struggle to overcome emotions when representing their respective countries on international assignments. One of the most striking scene was before the commencement of the 2014 Brazil world cup, when the national anthem was being sung by supporters in the stand was superstar Neymar shedding a tear after being overcome by emotions.
Your Excellency, it is, therefore, critical for the government to craft a sports policy to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes for our sport, especially considering the chaotic build up to the 2021 African Cup of Nations crucial qualifier between Zimbabwe and Algeria.
The Warriors played just a single international friendly against lowly Malawi which ended in a 0-0 stalemate.
That only a handful of foreign-based players showed up for the match following reports that Zifa dispatched invitation letters to players’ respective clubs late, worsened the situation.
Although it is not the performance or the result that matters most in international friendly matches, but team jelling, playing against such weaker opponents, often flatters.
The soccer controlling body was supposed to organise high-profile international friendly matches with teams ranked higher than them in order to properly gauge their readiness. Algeria played and drew against Mexico and won against Nigeria as part of their build up and the end result was there for all to see.
The Warriors were massacred 3-1 in Algiers. It was an embarrassing result for the players, the country and every citizen. Warriors coach Zdravko Logarusic said the ill-preparedness of the team manifested itself in the players’ lack of confidence resulting in them failing to convert their chances.
Zimbabwe Cricket is one of the organisations that has emerged from the COVID-19-induced lockdown in a healthy financial state of affairs.
Having year gone through a rough patch last where even the very survival of the game was threatened, ZC has returned to its status as the richest sport code in the country and is now remunerating its players and staff much better after they experienced one salary cut after another.
Just to show how things have looked up for ZC, they have launched a number of domestic tournaments that are meant to aid the development of the game as well as better prepare national team players.
Club cricket is now back on the calendar in a more lucrative fashion and younger players can now play alongside and against the more established and experienced clubs.
A host of matches are lined up for the national team next year both in the white ball and red ball formats, yet amid all this one, something is still missing.
The calendar lacks the important Zimbabwe A matches, which is supposed to be a bridge between domestic cricket and the national team.
Younger players need to be prepared for the rough world of international cricket and jumping from domestic or age group cricket straight into the national team can have catastrophic effects on careers.
Your Excellency, this is one area that ZC need to sort out and organise a lot of second string cricket so that younger and developing players can find a stepping stone into international cricket.
The year 2020 has also been a tough one for Zimbabwe Rugby following the pandemic where the national teams ended up missing on international action.
They will be looking into the new year with renewed optimism as they seek to launch their assault in continental competitions, with the main brief being to set themselves up for qualification to the next World Cup in the 15s category.
The Sables have always had promise yet consistently fail to deliver as Namibia continue to pip them to World Cup qualification.
Zimbabwe has got undoubted abundance of rugby talent which deserves a short at the global showcase, yet they always fail where really they should be succeeding.
Over the last few years, problems in the development of rugby talent have been compounded by lack of a national league. A national league really should be the rock upon which national teams are built. A national team cannot succeed in a country that does not have a competitive national league.
Sponsorship has been the problem over the years and this has seen the national league disappear from the rugby calendar. Yes there are several foreign-based players that are dominating the national teams, but emerging talent is always stifled if there is no national league.
Talented locally based players struggle to horn their skills where there is no competitive national league. This is one grey area that will need urgent attention if the Sables, Cheetahs, the Young Sables and women’s teams are to enjoy any success. Over the years some of the best talents have chosen to represent other nations because they see no bright future in representing Zimbabwe. With more professionalism and with more funding, the country can retain its best players and the dream of seeing the Sables running out at a World Cup tournament can be turned into reality.
The national hockey teams used to be some of the biggest medal hopefuls at various regional, continental and global tournaments during the 80s and into the 90s. But even with a solid schools base, the spot code has grown weaker and weaker over the years. The biggest problem has been the lack of a solid domestic league that would feed into the national teams. While there is some professionalism in the running of the sport, what has been lacking are the finances to lubricate the sport into running smoothly. Even at the schools stage, the sport is still too elitist and needs better involvement of the masses.
Swimming has over the years been one of the bright sports in the country, winning medals at the All Africa Game and the Olympics. But the sport code has suffered the consequences of a tough economy with facilities in the country being neglected. This has contributed in the sport code losing some of its luster. Schools are still producing bright young prospects yet the nurturing of such talents often faces challenges due to lack of resources. Over the years swimming has failed to break through into being a sport code of choice among school children as it woo has remained an elitist activity.
Most of the sporting disciplines in Zimbabwe suffer the effects of a tough economy where companies are failing to spare anything in sponsorship which has contributed mainly in the talent drain. Most sport codes do not have proper competitive leagues that run regularly and the development of sport in the country has been hindered.