‘Think how much bet­ter we would be with fund­ing’

Zim­babwe coach dreams of what could be as team defy their shoe­string bud­get,

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Netball World Cup - writes Ben Bloom

Afew hours be­fore his side claimed an un­likely third World Cup vic­tory over Bar­ba­dos yesterday, Zim­babwe head coach Lloyd Makunde snatched some time for a quick shop­ping trip in

Liver­pool city cen­tre. With a mea­gre sum of £30, he headed for the near­est sports shop to see how far he could stretch his cash.

The ob­jects of his de­sire were “cones, re­sis­tance bands, hur­dles” and the type of train­ing equip­ment that ev­ery net­ball club in Bri­tain has in abun­dance, but which are so lack­ing in Zim­babwe.

By any stan­dards of elite sport it was a pal­try amount, but the crucial fact is this was Makunde’s own money; the coach forced to take cash from his own pocket to try to fur­ther Zim­bab­wean net­ball’s cause. “I am buy­ing for my­self, but do­ing it for the coun­try,” he tells Tele­graph Sport.

Makunde is cheery as cars whizz past us on the dual car­riage­way that Zim­babwe’s bud­get Liver­pool ho­tel sits on. He has good rea­son to be con­tent. Hav­ing coached the na­tional side for 22 years, he has spent the past few days watch­ing his team take the World Cup by storm on their tour­na­ment de­but.

Ranked 13th in the world, they are cer­tain to fin­ish no lower than eighth and could yet come fifth – a stag­ger­ing achieve­ment.

In fact, it is not just their first time at a World Cup, but the first time they have played any of the world’s best teams. Or­di­nar­ily con­signed to fac­ing only fel­low African op­po­si­tion, they did once fly out to Hong Kong, where they faced lowly na­tions who failed to even qual­ify for this tour­na­ment. That is the sum of their global net­ball ex­pe­ri­ence.

So the fact they have beaten Sri Lanka, North­ern Ire­land and Bar­ba­dos, as well as caus­ing un­ex­pected prob­lems for reign­ing world cham­pi­ons Aus­tralia, is some­thing of a marvel. Even more so when you con­sider the hard­ship they have en­dured to even be here.

With money hard to come by and sport­ing funds in an over­whelm­ingly pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety di­verted to­wards the na­tion’s male foot­ballers, the net­ball team were forced to crowd­fund their way to this tour­na­ment.

Even then, says Makunde, “we were with our beg­ging bowl and no­body looked at us”. The des­per­ate hope is that suc­cess in Liver­pool will change that.

“Our game is ris­ing bit by bit,” says Makunde. “But imag­ine if we had the fund­ing that we want, the equip­ment, the in­fra­struc­ture.

“We have only one in­door court in Zim­babwe, but it is be­ing used by bas­ket­ball and vol­ley­ball, so it’s hard for us to use. So we train out­doors. It was only when we came here that we started prac­tis­ing on the type of court ev­ery­one else uses.

“We need train­ing equip­ment. We al­ways come up with any­thing to sub­sti­tute equip­ment, but you can’t sub­sti­tute some­thing like a re­sis­tance band. While I am here I’m go­ing to buy my­self some

equip­ment with the lit­tle I have, so that when I get home I can rely on that, lest any­thing doesn’t change.”

Just two of Zim­babwe’s World Cup squad ply their trade away from their home coun­try – star shooter Joice Takaidza, who lives in Aus­tralia, and Ade­laide Muskwe, a stu­dent at Not­ting­ham Trent, whose twin brother Ad­mi­ral plays foot­ball for Leicester City.

The hope, says long-term cap­tain Per­petua Siy­a­chitema, is that some of her team might be scouted to join Sev­ern Stars player Muskwe in the English Su­per­league, or one of the other ma­jor global leagues.

That prospect has gone for Siy­a­chitema – one of a large ma­jor­ity of Zim­babwe play­ers who are also moth­ers – whose in­ter­na­tional ca­reer will come to an end af­ter this World Cup.

She can re­tire con­tent, hav­ing played the best teams in the world, in front of a spec­tac­u­lar troop of Zim­bab­wean fans who have lit up the M&S Bank Arena ev­ery day.

“I was so ex­cited when I saw we were in a group with Aus­tralia and New Zealand be­cause it has al­ways been my dream to play them,” she says. “We re­ally wanted to prove how good we are. We only play other African teams so we aren’t out there on the net­ball map. People don’t know us.”

For any progress to be made, that must change im­me­di­ately, says Makunde. He has a sim­ple plea to the world’s lead­ing net­ball na­tions: “Let us play you.”

He says: “Imag­ine if we had come here af­ter play­ing a friendly with Eng­land, Ja­maica or New Zealand. Then we could sit down and learn from where we went wrong. Think how much bet­ter we would be now.

“Even for tour­na­ments in Africa, teams like South Africa, Uganda and Malawi don’t come be­cause they are low-pro­file tour­na­ments. So we are only able to play teams ranked lower than us.

“We have abun­dant talent in Zim­babwe. If we can get exposure and fi­nan­cial re­source I know we can go far. If we get that, I as­sure you come the next World Cup we will be a force to be reck­oned with.”

Caus­ing a stir: Zim­babwe’s effervesce­nt fans roar the team on against Sri Lanka; (right) shooter Joice Takaidza

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