More resources needed in sport
THE 2016 Summer Olympics ended in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Sunday as they started in true samba style at Maracana Stadium. The games started on August 5, with 11 544 athletes trooping into the Brazilian city to compete in 28 sporting disciplines. Zimbabwe was represented by 31 athletes who competed in seven codes swimming, football, athletics, rowing, shooting, archery and equestrian. They were accompanied by 26 officials.
A lot was expected of the country’s representatives with much focus on swimmer, Kirsty Coventry. She is the country’s most decorated Olympian with seven medals she won in 2004 in Athens, Greece and 2008 in Beijing, China. Her seven medals are more than any other African has won in any sport at the Olympics. In Rio she had the added honour of being the team’s flag bearer.
However, at 32, Coventry isn’t growing any faster, but slower. Her best performance was thus finishing sixth in the 200 backstroke final.
None of the 31 athletes had a podium finish although as a member of the International Olympic Committee athletes’ commission, Coventry was, from time to time, asked to hand over medals during the games.
That her sixth place in the 200 backstroke final was actually the best performance by any of Zimbabwe’s representatives in Rio demonstrates the pathetic show our representatives posted at the games but should serve as yet another valuable lesson for the country for the next Olympics in 2020, in Tokyo, Japan and other major competitions.
The Mighty Warriors flew to the games amid much public admiration, particularly considering the difficulties they overcame in qualifying. It appears no one was prepared to support them, therefore coach Shadreck Mlauzi was alone with his band of part-timers. They generated a good amount of interest in Rio for their sterling work against bigger names at the games Germany, Australia and Canada. The ladies had no proper kit or training pitch ahead of the games. In addition, they started their preparations very late.
The local and international media actually praised them for managing to score a goal in their first game at the global stage although they ended up losing 1-6 to Germany. They lost again in their second match, 1- 3 to Canada and signed off with another 1-6 loss, to Australia.
In athletics, Tatenda Tsumba, Pardon Ndlovu, Cuthbert Nyasango and Gabriel Mvumvure performed poorly with Wirimai Juwawo failing to finish the marathon. Gavin Sutherland failed in archery, as did Camilla Kruger in equestrian.
In rowing Micheen Thornycroft (women) and Andrew Peebles (men) competed in the finals, finishing 11th and 25th respectively.
It was a poor Olympics for the country. Now is the time for the Government, athletes and the corporate sector to put their heads together to ensure that they invest in sport for the country to produce genuine medal hopefuls in the post-Coventry era.
Zimbabwe does not have a problem of lack of talent. There is much of it all over the country. The main problem is the lack of financial support from the Government, sports associations and the corporate sector to identify and nurture that talent and motivate and equip athletes for them to be able to compete at the top level.
Mvumvure who competed in the men’s 100m and finished seventh in his heat appealed for the Government to put more resources into sport.
“I wish the Government would get a little more involved in athletes, arts and other people’s lives because when you come here you want to do the best to represent your country,” he told our sister paper The Herald recently.
“You don’t want to just come here and you are out in the first round. So I am just pleading with the Government or any ministers or ministries to be able to support more sports people because it’s hard to come to the Olympics. You have to go through so many things, injuries and all that stuff.
“I know I train with some athletes from different parts of the world and Trinidad, for example, their athletes whenever you make an Olympic team or world championship team you get a little stipend from your country, from the Ministry of Sports. And that helps them to have a little something to look forward to, to keep working and all the other things like the expenses you incur as an athlete. You will be able to actually get taken care of and you are not looking really for a handout to say here is this money and do whatever you do. But a little convenience and to help out with the expenses you incur as an athlete is really helpful.”
There is no doubt that his views resonate with his compatriots who flopped like him in Rio and many others who have failed before.
This lack of investment is the main reason why the men’s senior cricket team are now a joke in their discipline, and why we don’t expect much from the Warriors at the 2017 African Cup of Nations finals. Their biggest achievement has been qualifying. It is the reason why top-class tennis is no more in Zimbabwe. We now have a sports policy, whose absence some argued contributed to the poor performances of national representatives at international competitions. The policy is meant to stimulate greater Government attention to sports, develop talent from tender ages in a more systematic manner, and bring more money from the private sector into sport and so on.
We are hopeful but a policy only makes sense if it is adequately financed and implemented fully to produce the intended results.