Inside sport: Let’s support our national teams

Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Kirsty Coventry

NEWS that Zimbabwe’s junior rugby and hockey teams are seeking funds to settle their financial requirements to participate in upcoming continental competitions does not make good the name of the country on the international front.

The Zimbabwe Under-20 rugby team is set to defend their Rugby Africa U20 Barthes Trophy in Kenya in April while the national U21 men’s and women's teams are struggling to secure funding to enable them to compete at the Junior Africa Cup in Egypt from March 12-19.

How surely can our national teams be reduced to beggars to the extent of asking for donations from the public to enable them to represent a country that claims to have high sporting ambitions?

Let us not forget that these are teams which all hockey and rugby followers as well as all Zimbabweans are looking forward to seeing representing the country with distinction on the international scene in future and yet they are already facing obstacles.

The Zimbabwe Under-20 rugby side won last year’s edition of the continental competition and the players who make up the team are expected to form the backbone of the Sables squad which will seek to qualify for the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia.

It would only be the third time the Sables have qualified for the global showpiece after they participated in the 1987 and 1991 finals.

The country’s junior hockey teams are also seeking to rediscover the glory days when the country used to be a force in international hockey. The country’s ladies’ team won a gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Sadly, though, they have not been able to secure the much-needed support and the Hockey Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) is holding a fundraising tournament at the Khumalo Hockey Stadium in Bulawayo.

HAZ is also holding a raffle competition while they have been appealing for donations from corporates and individuals in order to make the Under 21 team’s trip to Egypt a reality.

This, it seems, happens only in Zimbabwe unlike in other countries where the government, through associations like the Sports and Recreation Commission, funds all national teams when taking part in international competitions like the Africa Cup, the World Championships and the World Cup.

In England, for example, offices of all national sporting associations are housed at the same government complex with the athletics association next to that of swimming and offices of the others coming after one another.

These sporting associations use the offices for free and because of their close proximity to each other share ideas on how best they can improve the associations they lead.

Yet in Zimbabwe, some sporting associations do not even have offices at all and operate from the boot of the leaders’ cars where important documents are also kept.

At one time, Zimbabwe adopted the English model of offices at the National Sports Stadium but that model was destroyed after the ministry of local government and national housing began asking for very high rental fees.

This clearly shows how our government is neglecting sport yet at the same time those in authority expect excellency from our national teams when they contest with those from other countries.

If Zimbabwe is surely serious about its sporting ambitions, then there is a need for the government to depart from this culture of ‘ do it on your own’ as has been happening to sports associations.

What is surprising is that the government through the Kirsty Coventry-led Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation has on several occasions bailed out the senior football team and sometimes offered huge bonuses yet neglecting the other sporting disciplines.

What the SRC and the Sports ministry need to understand is that football is not the only sporting discipline in the country and that they also control over 50 sporting associations including hockey and rugby that are crying for help.

What Zimbabwean sports needs is for the local sports authorities to make an appeal to the government to fund or give a percentage of the financial requirements of all national teams when they qualify to take part in major international competitions.

Surely, they can start by seeking government assistance for the junior rugby and hockey teams rather than for the Warriors or Mighty Warriors whose return to international football is unknown.

It is a fact that the Zimbabwean government does not have money but it cannot be so poor to the extent of failing to support its own athletes to achieve their best against other nations.

There is nothing wrong in trying and the ball is in the SRC and the sports ministry’s court to give it a try and see how best the request for the government’s financial support to sports can go.

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