Tuesday, 22 June 2021


ZIMBABWE will send their smallest number of athletes to the Olympic Games since the country attained independence in 1980.

Five athletes, who include the swimming duo of Donata Katai and Peter Wetzlar, sprinter Ngoni Makusha, rower Peter Purcell-Gilpin and golfer Scott Vincent, will carry the country’s banner in Tokyo, Japan, next month.

With the exception of Purcell-Gilpin, who will represent the country in the men’s singles scull event in rowing after actually qualifying for the Games in 2019, and golfer Vincent, who is ranked 54th out of the expected 60 golfers in the Olympic rankings, the other three are going to Japan through universality slots.

Under the universality rule, National Olympics Committees (NOC) may enter one male athlete and one female athlete, regardless of time, if they have no athletes of that gender meeting the entry standard.

This makes it possible for every NOC to have a minimum of two representatives in the sport, but the universality spots cannot be used in combined events.

Zimbabwe received two universality slots from the International Swimming Federation (Fina) for a male and a female, with the World Athletics extending a slot that has been taken by South Africa-based Makusha.

The last time Zimbabwe sent few athletes was the 2012 Olympics in London where they had three marathon runners Wirimayi Juwawo, Cuthbert Nyasango and Sharon Tavengwa, the rowing pair of James Fraser-Mackenzie and Micheen Thornycroft, Olympic gold medalist Kirsty Coventry and Chris Felgate from triathlon.

At the last Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Zimbabwe had 31 athletes, with the bulk of them being members of the national women’s football team. Six were from athletics and one each from equestrian and archery.

These had all qualified through Olympic qualifying events. Zimbabwe athletes’ failure to qualify for the Olympics via qualification events is quite worrisome and experts blame this on lack of meaningful investment in athletes’ development.

This has also resulted in Zimbabwean athletes struggling for podium finishes.

“Let us go back to the basics. Let us invest meaningfully if we are serious about sports development and podium performances. One gold medal will cost a country upwards of $1.2million over 10 000 hours (between eight to 10 years). So, when we place targets for medals, we must also set aside the requisite resources that go with the target. Emotions and passion alone devoid of principles of the ecology of sports development and excellence will bring us the same frustrations we have endured over the years,” said experienced sports administrator Stanley Mutoya, who is chief executive officer of the African Union Sports Council Region 5 Youth Games.

“Our yesteryear successes have been attained by a mixture of good fortune and the rule of exception. Sadly, both bases are not sustainable. That is why we continue to struggle to produce the Artwell Mandazas, the Golden girls, the Kirsty Coventrys and Talkmore Nyonganis, to name, but a few.”


Mutoya said Zimbabwe must look at striking a balance between commercialising athletes and developing them, adding that the Government must consider regulating player agents and managers.

“A lot of times the desire to sell athletes has seen the composition of our national teams being compromised, as certain athletes are being shepherded into the market with a carrot to be sold in Europe. Ultimately, the quality of our national teams is heavily compromised. A selection policy needs to be really considered and if in place, be reviewed,” he said.

He also called for the revamping and linking of schools’ sport to mainstream sport.

“Within the schools’ sport sector itself, the relationship between private and public schools sport needs to be regulated so that athletes are selected on merit not financial endowment to represent the country. In short, Zimbabwe needs a serious conversation in the development of a national sports model that serves as a guide for all national sports associations. The Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Ministry needs to be supported to expedite the National Sports Strategy. National sports associations need to be financially assisted to drive meaningful sports development and graduate from being volunteer driven amateur to at least semi-professional entities,” Mutoya said.

Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) commissioner Titus Zvomuya said lack of scientific approach or a system for athletes’ selection, talent identification and nurturing also has a bearing on the country’s poor performances.

“Zimbabwe is yet to fully embrace the concept of sports science. In order to achieve best possible sporting performance, we need to take sports science seriously. Sports science allows us to evaluate, research, assess and get scientific advice on coaching, training, competition, and recovery practices in all areas and levels of sport. Our athletes are not exposed to exercise physiology, biomechanics, motor control and motor development, sports medicine and sports nutrition.

“We need to embrace sports science as a nation. This is what we are currently focusing on as the National Sports Academy at Bindura University of Science Education. Universities that offer sports science as an academic subject at undergraduate, post graduate and doctorate levels like Bindura University of Science Education and NUST must be fully capacitated and fully made use of,” Zvomuya said.

Tendai Tagara, National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe president, said Covid-19 affected athletes’ performances and their programmes.

He said they were now focusing on getting athletes to qualify for the 2022 World Championships this year.

Tagara lamented the country’s loss of talented junior athletes that vanish from the spotlight once they take up scholarships overseas.

“Our challenge is that as soon as we have quality juniors, they are snapped up by universities abroad. The universities don’t develop world class athletes, but are concerned on positioning in the National Collegiate Athletic Association leagues. The time we request that those athletes come for global events, they will be tired. That side, they have everything, coaches, facilities and nutritionists. 

“What we should do is develop a home-grown solution like what Botswana and South Africa have done. This means the Government through the SRC must have a deliberate strategy to fund sport, while corporates complement Government like what other countries are doing,” said Tagara.

The National Association of Secondary School Heads (Nash) president Arthur Maphosa said: “I think we are missing the link between schools and clubs where a lot of potentially good athletes fall off after completion of primary school and secondary school to the club system. Zimbabweans need to understand that sport is another career option which pays far more than academics if nurtured well. There is need to educate all the people involved in sport, be it teachers, parents and learners, because sport is now an industry and its appreciation can help our nation produce world class athletes.

“As Nash, we always instill high level of competitiveness in all our events. Nash has gone on to support and enforce the inclusion of sport studies, with subjects like Sports Science, Sport Management to help our learners see the importance of sport in life.” Chronicle


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