Zimbabwe: Govt Blamed for Olympic Failure

NATIONAL sporting associations have blamed the Government for their failure to send athletes in recent years to the world’s biggest sporting showcase — the Olympic Games. While in some countries the government plays a major role in giving grants to sporting associations, it is a different case in Zimbabwe where organisations have to look for their own funding which is proving difficult and at times impossible.

Such is the state of our sport in the country that several associations are finding it hard to put in place functional systems where they can create a platform to identify and nurture talent.

Several national sport associations, who spoke to The Herald this week, revealed that funding is their biggest let-down and for as long as the Government does not significantly chip in, producing elite athletes for the country will just but remain a dream.

Little is being done across different sporting disciplines to establish functional leagues, holding of national or regional tournaments and other developmental activities like talent identification.

Almost 90 percent of the national sport associations who are affiliated to the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee do not have a club system in place where players play regularly, enabling national coaches to have a wider selection of players.

Apart from football, basketball and rugby to a certain extent, all the other disciplines that are involved in team sport, play their games at a social level in this country.

The lack of a viable club system in most of the sporting disciplines has hindered the development of sport in this country in a big way.

During the 1980s and 90s, hockey used to have a viable league system where clubs from around the country participated in provincial championships where teams like Matabeleland, Manicaland, Mashonaland and Midlands would eventually meet for a particular tournament during the season.

But it’s now a thing of the past and it’s proving difficult to find new players who can now go and represent the country at the Olympic Games.

The “Golden Girls” of 1980 remain the country’s best crop of players in as far as hockey is concerned.

Back in the days there also used to be the Harare Tennis League where all sports clubs dotted around the city used to play each other on a weekly basis but it has since gone with the wind.

Players like Martin Dzuwa, Peter Nyamande and Tanya Chinhamo, who all later became household names in tennis in this country, are a result of the Harare Tennis League.

These players were spotted while playing for Mufakose Tennis Coaching Agency which was part and parcel of this league.

In some countries like South Africa, the army and the police have a duty to play in developing talent and then they recommend the athletes to their National Olympic Committee for selection for the Olympic Games.

The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) recently went into partnership with the army, police and other defence bodies in their drive to identify talent in sporting disciplines such as amateur boxing, judo and taekwondo.

SASCOC is South Africa’s national multi-coded sporting body responsible for the preparation, presentation and performance of teams to all multi-coded events namely the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games, Commonwealth Games, World Games, All-Africa Games, Olympic Youth Games, Commonwealth Youth Games and Zone VI Games.

Locally we have facilities that are underutilised at police camps and army barracks and these forces should unite for one cause of identifying talent which they can later recommend to different national sport associations.

This will go a long in helping the nation in identifying talented players who can become future Olympians.

It is also the duty of the national sport associations to identify, develop and nurture talent hence the need to work hand-in-hand with the uniformed forces to utilise the facilities.

Having identified talent, these associations can recommend athletes to ZOC who can, among things, facilitate for scholarships of these athletes overseas.

Charles Nhemachema, the director-general of the Sports Commission, recently said that Zimbabwe should also offer or come up with some good incentives for its athletes who would have been identified to compete in major international sporting events like the Olympic Games.

“We need to come up with some good incentives for these athletes . . . We need to dangle a carrot in front of them, something which will attract them to take part in any sporting discipline at the highest level.”

South Koreans, unlike Zimbabweans, are very conscious and committed to improving their national image on the international stage, linking image to economic performance.

They have set aggressive goals in sports and continue to invest both strategically in specific sports like archery and quantitatively in two large training centres for its athletic development programme.

Medal winners receive substantial rewards and also a pension for life.

The South Korean government provides funding every year towards sports and Korean companies have also followed suit, providing sponsorships for different sports disciplines.

Training facilities are available and accessible to athletes in all sporting disciplines and incentives are offered to lure the best athletes for the national team.

And this is the road that Zimbabwe should also take if the country is to reap more rewards at the Olympic Games in the future.

Zimbabwe has consistently sent athletes to the Olympic Games since 1980, with a total of 165 Olympians participating from Moscow (1980) to London (2012) over nine Summer Olympic Games but South Africa sent more than 130 athletes to this year’s Games alone.

Since Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe garnered eight Olympic medals that include three golds.

The country’s first gold medal was won by the senior women’s hockey team at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and twice swimming sensation Kirsty Coventry won gold in the 200-metre backstroke in 2004 (Athens) and in 2008 (Beijing).

Before Coventry’s feat at Athens Games in 2004, Zimbabwe had only one Olympic medal to show, courtesy of the “Golden Girls'” success at the 1980 Moscow Games.

After that, Zimbabwe took part at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles (United States) in 1984, Seoul (South Korea) in 1988, Barcelona (Spain) in 1992, Atlanta (United States) in 1996 and in Sydney (Australia) in 2000 and all the athletes returned home empty-handed on each outing.

But that drought was finally ended by Coventry who took the 2004 Athens Olympics by storm as she swept to victory in the women’s 200-metre backstroke event to win the country’s first gold medal in swimming. She also picked up a silver and bronze medal in the women’s 100-metre backstroke and 200-metre individual medley events at the same Games in Athens.

In 2008 in Beijing, China, Coventry produced the same magic and grabbed four medals — one gold and three silvers — which took her tally to seven medals at the Olympics but as age caught up with her, she found the going tough at this year’s Games in London and failed to win even as a single medal.

There are more than 30 sporting national associations in the country that are affiliated to the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee but surprisingly the country always struggle to produce athletes for the Olympic Games.

At the recent Olympic Games in London, Zimbabwe sent a small number of seven athletes compared to South Africa’s more than 130 athletes and questions are being raised if the country is in a position to produce medal prospects in the forthcoming Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and 2020.

It was the smallest contingent of athletes that Zimbabwe has sent to the Olympics since the country started taking part in the global sporting showcase in 1980, the biggest number being 42 athletes sent during the same year.

The Zimbabwe Amateur Boxing Association president Lovemore Malianga said in as much effort they put effort to produce boxers who can represent the country at the Olympics, their efforts are being hampered by the non-availability of funds from the Government and the corporate world in general.

“It is sad to note that we always struggle to send a team to the World Championships like what Botswana and South Africa does,” said Malianga.

“For instance, if we had managed to send a team to Morocco where there were qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics, we could have had a good chance to send boxers to London but the problem is that sport is organised voluntarily in this country and it has a negative impact on the whole process.

“In other countries, bodies like our own Sports Commission gives sporting associations grants to go and perform at the world championships . . . The sponsorship for boxing is very unbelievable.

“The Government has not done enough to assist us in as far as the sport is concerned in the country — the Government should fully enable the Sports Commission to play its part where each association get its opportunity to develop and nurture talent and also hold tournaments regularly.

“The Sports Commission is the vehicle which the Government should fully support to disburse funds to the associations and we could be equal with Botswana or South Africa if we get sponsorship from the Government,” added Malianga.

Malianga believes if they can get funding they stand a great chance of qualifying for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

“There is a lot of talent in the country but it’s all coming back to the question of sponsorship and I believe if we can get funds we will be able to send boxers to the next edition of the Olympics,” said Malianga.

Mary Kloppers, president of the Zimbabwe Aquatic Union, feels it will be difficult to replace swimming sensation Coventry if sport in the country is kept starved of the financial resources.

“Funding is a bit of a problem and the Government must encourage the corporate world to sponsor sport,” said Kloppers.

“It is difficult to produce another Kirsty Coventry because we don’t have resources and facilities from which we can nurture future talent … We are only relying on those who may be able to get scholarships abroad.

“There has to be a correct channel from the administrators where right people should be put in place rather than opting for incompetent people into influential positions,” Kloppers said.

Amon Madzvamuse, president of the Zimbabwe Handball Association, echoed the sentiments that other associations are failed by weak administrators who go into positions for the love of money and not sport.

“We had a problem with administrators where players were administering the association and there was no constitution to govern the organisation,” said Madzvamuse.

“It was just a group of people coming together and it was difficult to come up with a team.

“Having said all this, funding has remained our major hindrance as we have to rely on well-wishers. We are expecting to have the Handball Premier League soon so that we can start identifying players for the future and with 2016 Olympics in mind,” added Madzvamuse.

Handball in Zimbabwe is mainly played as school level with no viable club system in place and this is also having a negative impact on the development of the sport in this country.

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