Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Senior Sports Reporter
THE Olympic Games officially end tomorrow, but for Zimbabwe, they ended about a week ago when golfer Scot Vincent bowed out among the top 20 in a field of 60 players that took to the Tokyo fairways.
Vincent was one of only five Zimbabwean athletes at the Games pushed back by a year due to Covid-19 with swimmers Donata Katai and Peter Wetzlar, rower Peter Purcell-Gilpin and sprinter Ngoni Makusha.
Qualifying for the Olympics is on its own a fulfilment of a dream for any athlete, although the ultimate goal is to win a medal.
Although they achieved personal best times and set new national records, Katai and Wetzlar, however, failed to make it past their heats.
Purcell-Gilpin and Makusha were equally far from the podium.
The nation held its breath when 17-year-old Watershed High School learner Katai took first position in her 100m backstroke heat in a personal best time of 1 minute, 02.73 seconds.
There was heartbreak, however, when her time proved slower to take her to the next round after all heats were compiled.
There’s no doubt that Katai is a possible future podium swimmer, but in these Games, she was not good enough considering that the gold medal in her event was won by a lady just three years older than her, 20-year-old Kaylee Rochelle McKeown from Australia.
There have been praises for the ‘good performances’ by our five athletes from various quarters, including the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee (ZOC).
Herein lies the problem. Was the purpose of sending the five to simply put-up good performances or to challenge for medals?
What is the goal of participating in these Games? Is it not to win medals?
If so, then why should we be celebrating failure? We saw good performances, yes, but they were still not enough to win the country medals, yet teenagers from other countries ascended to the winners’ podium time and again. Instead of just celebrating ‘good performances’, we should be self-introspecting to come out with an honest answer on why we continue doing badly at the Olympics. We must ask ourselves why only a few of our athletes qualify for the Games.
Let’s bear in mind that only Vincent and Purcell-Gilpin qualified on merit, while the other three were beneficiaries of a special waiver.
The two swimmers qualified via two slots availed to the aquatics board by world body FINA. The swimmers had failed to qualify on their own.
It’s the same story with athletics, which was awarded one slot to the Games by World Athletics, otherwise Zimbabwe would have sent just two athletes.
The question then is, what is the reason behind all this? Are those mandated to run sport in the country doing enough?
Most sports we participated in are individual events and a bit on the elitist side in terms of resources required for one to be competitive.
Some may ask what is so expensive about running in reference to Makusha, but although at face value there seems to be nothing expensive, it becomes a huge expense when one wants to compete against the best in the sport.
Sport must be affordable to anyone that wants to pursue it competitively or leisurely.
How many Zimbabweans can afford a golf bag, a golf club or a golf ball?
On average a moderate golf bag with between 11 and 13 clubs costs about R10 000, while a single golf ball can cost up to US$3.
How many can afford to invest in a boat for rowing; how many can meet the swimming costs?
The answer is very few can, leaving only privileged children, whose parents can sacrifice their own personal resources.
How much did Swimming Zimbabwe contribute financially towards Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry’s Olympics medal haul of seven?
It was rather through parental sacrifice until she moved to the United States where there are better facilities and professional coaches.
Zimbabwe grabbed its first Olympics gold medal at independence in 1980 when the women’s hockey side shocked the world.
And from that time as a new independent state, it took 24 years to win the next medal through Minister Coventry in the Athens Games.
Hockey is now virtually non-existent in Zimbabwe, with the two venues built for the 1995 All-Africa Games, Khumalo Hockey Stadium in Bulawayo and Magamba Hockey Stadium in Harare, now just white elephants.
There’s no doubt that we have so many talented children out there that just need opportunities if only our sport is run efficiently.
In athletics, the lucky few that get scholarships to better resourced countries are the lucky few with better opportunities to compete in the Games.
The problem is that there’s no athletics field certified by World Athletics in Zimbabwe, meaning that whatever times are recorded on any of our track fields are not recognised.
Therefore, for our athletes to achieve recognised times to qualify for international events, they have to compete in other countries that have certified fields, but without financial assistance, very few can afford.
This results in a lot of talented athletes dropping the sport, leaving the country with a small pool to select from.
It is only when we invest in sports facilities and equipment that we can be taken seriously by the international sporting community.
The 2014 African Union Sports Council Region 5 youth Games hosted in Bulawayo had provided us a golden opportunity to have state of the art facilities and equipment, but corruption prevailed.
The 1995 All-Africa Games left use with a lot of facilities at international level, but they were left to deteriorate to an unusable state.
The Chitungwiza Aquatic Complex is a good example of an international standard facility that is now a haven of criminals after being neglected to total decay.
We are our own worst enemies and need radical changes even in sport administration personnel.
Former ZOC Athletes Commission chairperson Abel Chimukoko aptly summed it up in an interview with our Harare Bureau when he said the poor state of sporting facilities is among the obstacles limiting local athletes in realising their full potential.
The retired long-distance athlete represented Zimbabwe in the 2004 Athens Olympics men’s marathon.
He said because most of our facilities are not internationally-certified by international federations, athletes cannot qualify locally and also cannot judge their performances locally.
If sport is self-funded, Chimukoko said Zimbabwe must not expect medals from international events.
Therefore our national sports associations must stop celebrating failure and work on ensuring that the country’s sports facilities and equipment are up to standard, and that sport becomes a mass sector.