THE name of the Gems of Zimbabwe is once again reverberating in all the four pillars of the universe after the Zimbabweans qualified for the 2023 Netball World Cup.
It is an achievement far beyond the reach of many teams the world over, no wonder the celebrations rocked Zimbabwe on the day of qualification and on the day of the team’s return from South Africa.
The celebrations reminded some of that day of July 6, 2003, when Zimbabwe qualified for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations finals, thanks to Gabon’s 2-0 win over Sierra Leone.
The Gems, however, did not have to wait for anyone to do the job for them nor to take out their calculators and weigh out their chances but earned their ticket through their own sweat.
What, however, is saddening is the nation’s response to the Gems’ qualification, a paltry US$11 000 government ‘thank you’ for the whole team to share something that might translate to $500 or less for each player.
It might be cruel to describe this gesture as an insult to the girls but the truth is that it somehow amounts to that and degrades the team’s achievement and also insults the opposition they outwitted.
One sports follower even jokingly revealed that he had mistakenly read the figure to be $110 000 only to laugh off when he realized it was only $11 000.
It is not a secret that the Zimbabwean government does not have much money but to surely lower themselves to the extent of thanking the girls with such a small figure is an embarrassment.
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How surely could sports minister Kirsty Coventry summon the strength to tell the whole country that they were giving out $11 000 and not $110 000 to a team that had done so much for the country?
Surely, the amount or weight of a ‘thank you’ is not determined by the receiver or by strangers but by the giver, but there are times when the weight of that gesture has to be questioned.
What will Joice Takaidza or Felisitus Kwangwa - when asked - tell their teammates back in Australia and the United Kingdom what they got for helping the Gems qualify for Cape Town 2023 — do they have to lie?
What will these girls tell the next generation and their own children in future about netball? That they received a $500 reward for leading Zimbabwe to the World Cup?
These girls surely deserved more than this ‘grocery money’ considering the fact they are also the same team that only four years ago raised the nation’s flag high in England after coming eighth at the World Cup finals.
What is disturbing is that such treatment continues to be accorded only to women’s teams yet their male counterparts even with less glamorous achievements get recognition.
Some might even recall the US $5 transport money that the Mighty Warriors received upon returning from the 2012 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro yet the government could afford an $800 000 package for the Warriors for Afcon 2021.
Prior to Afcon 2021, the government had also forked out more than $200 000 in allowances for the same always disappointing but loud Warriors.
The question is: What exactly do our women sportspersons have to do to earn the respect and recognition they deserve?
After all, it was the women’s hockey team that won Zimbabwe’s first ever Olympic Games medal and for that matter a gold from Russia in 1980.
It was those Mighty Warriors who followed this up by becoming the only other national team in history to qualify for the Olympics - the biggest platform in international sport.
Coventry on her part also brought to Zimbabwe seven Olympic medals, two gold, three silvers, and two bronze, becoming Africa’s greatest Olympiad in the process.
Surely, Zimbabwe should behave in a manner that should inspire its athletes to achieve better and better every time instead of demoralizing them.
Take for example, the South African women’s soccer team. They got R5.8 million from the government and R480 000 each from the South Africa Football Association for winning Afcon 2022.
This translates to about $30 000 each and that is the way to do it and not the paltry $500 the Gems received and for that matter for qualifying for the World Cup.
Perhaps, Zimbabwe should put in place a national framework for ranking bonuses for individuals and teams that excel at competitions like the World Cup, the World Championships, the Olympic Games, and others in that category.
Maybe, in that way, our female athletes will get the recognition they so much deserve.
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