2005: Year the gods sneered at Zim sport

Enock Muchinjo

AH, the confusion. There comes a time for a sports journalist when writing on Zimbabwean sports becomes very frustrating. The year 2005 has been such a year, as sports writers penned more of t

he tumult, failure, and worst of all, the mudslinging.


The most tragic thing is that the scourge eroding local sport has taken its heaviest toll on the major team sports, disciplines with so much potential and history; disciplines that would have proudly flown high the country’s flag had something not gone horribly wrong at some stage.


Cricket took the centre stage in our IndependentSport coverage this year.

It seems the game of cricket has reached a point of no return on its self-destructive path, and only this week, the game’s world governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC) shattered those who genuinely want to see the restoration of sanity in Zimbabwe cricket, when ICC president Ehsan Mani and chief executive Malcolm Speed reiterated their position not to intervene in the Zimbabwe crisis.


The off-field warfare that is now Zimbabwe cricket has been even worse than the horrendous performances on the field of play.


The crisis in cricket was brought to a sensational level in October when the country’s professional cricketers, led by skipper Tatenda Taibu and backed by chairmen of provincial associations, presented a public statement demanding the resignation of ZC chairman Peter Chingoka and managing director Ozias Bvute for gross mismanagement, funds misappropriation and incompetence allegations. It was the second time in as many years that players have revolted in protest at the manner in which the game is being run, following the much-publicised rebel saga last year.


Weeks later, 22-year-old skipper Taibu dropped a bombshell when he announced his retirement from Zimbabwe cricket. His decision was also influenced by threats issued against him by controversial Zanu PF activist Temba Mliswa, a central figure in the cricket dispute. Taibu now plays club cricket in Bangladesh.


Zimbabwe cricket had earlier been dealt a severe blow when the country’s only world-class player and former captain Heath Streak, quit international cricket to concentrate on captaining English county side Warwickshire.


Zimbabwe cricket has been a disaster waiting to happen since the beginning of the year. But it suddenly turned full-blown after the chaotic ZC Annual General Meeting in Bulawayo on September 12. This writer was among local and international journalists who were barred from entering the meeting venue.


The AGM was nullified after only six directors, who did not constitute a quorum, had met.


The Bulawayo meeting set the hollering tone for the rest of the year. Coach Phil Simmons was sacked after a string of poor performances by his team, and replaced by former Zimbabwe all-rounder Kevin Curran. This paper had revealed two weeks before that the Trinidadian’s job was on the line.


Simmons then challenged the legality of his dismissal, sparking off a legal battle with ZC that led to unorthodox attempts to deport him. But the ZC/ Simmons battle was just a façade. Simmons was snared in the political mishmash of Zimbabwe cricket, and was being made to pay a price for belonging to a faction that includes players, provincial chairmen and other stakeholders who are opposed to Chingoka and Bvute.


The invalidated AGM had also resolved to replace ZC director Macsood Ebrahim with former first-class player Bruce Makovah as convener of selectors, and also changed the whole selection panel.


Although the appointments were later reversed, the original decision backfired on the ZC board, as Ebrahim and the players had become resolute allies stemming mainly from the players’ contract dispute with the union.


Talking of the contact issue, which was one of the sticking points in the cricket stalemate, this paper revealed in August that in the wake of the national team’s poor performances, the ZC board was revising the players’ contracts, and withdrawing sponsored cars and other perks used by some players. The board then went on to announce the introduction of new performance-based contracts that would see players getting remuneration accordingly to their performance.


On the domestic scene, the expulsion of six top clubs from the Mashonaland Cricket Association, for showing dissent against the ZC bosses, also left Zimbabwe cricket much the worse. Two officials from the provincial association staged a pitch invasion at Harare Sports Club, stopping a match between the home club and Old Hararians. They proceeded to threaten players from the two expelled clubs with violence.


Over and above the meddling of politicians and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) in Zimbabwe cricket, political intervention was laid bare this month when Chingoka and Bvute were released from police custody without charges despite evidence of violating exchange regulations in a list of charges investigated by the Reserve Bank. The list of charges was carried in last week’s issue of the Zimbabwe Independent.


Two players, Vusi Sibanda and Waddington Mwayenga, and national team manager Babu Meman, were convicted and fined for the same offence, but involving smaller amounts of money.


The fighting in cricket had a paralysing effect on playing standards. Earlier in the year, the national team had handed Bangladesh their maiden Test series win on the subcontinent. This was followed by comprehensive defeats in South Africa in February when Streak and some of the former rebel players had made a comeback to the team.


New Zealand and India arrived in Zimbabwe in August for a triangular One-Day International Series and Tests, and left bemused by the inferiority of the opposition. National reserve and junior sides fared no better as they fell heavily on opposition swords in their assignments.


As we speak, the national team should have been preparing for a typical Pacific Christmas in New Zealand where Zimbabwe were scheduled to tour.

But the government in Wellington rubbed salt into injury when they refused visas for the team because of the Zimbabwe government’s bad human rights record.


Football fought hard for its fair share of controversy with cricket. The major highlight in football was the Warriors second successive qualification to the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, although the feeling was that Zimbabwe can no longer get carried away by mere qualification to the Nations Cup. At the same time, though, no one really favoured the Warriors to qualify for the World Cup finals in Germany in mid 2006.


However, Zimbabwe’s Africa Cup/ World Cup qualifying campaign provided some outstanding moments. A 1-5 hammering in Nigeria in October in a match of academic interest for the Warriors brought national coach Charles Mhlauri under stern criticism from the local football fraternity.


The Warriors face the Nigerians again in Egypt after they were grouped alongside the Super Eagles and other western African giants, World Cup debut boys Ghana, and Senegal for the tournament which roars into life in January.


The Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) in October submitted to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) the country’s bid to host the continental football showcase in 2010.


Caps United, who a fortnight ago retained their Premier Soccer League (PSL) championship, received unprecedented news coverage this year. In August, Twine Phiri’s team alongside rivals Highlanders, were invited to play in an exhibition game in the United Kingdom.


The ill-fated UK tour ended with six Caps players, Elton Chimedza, Raymond Undi, Silent Katumba, Artwell Mabhiza, Tichaona Nyenda and captain David Sengu, disappearing in London before the team’s departure back home. Highlanders also left behind two players, Luckson Mutanga and Dalisizwe Dlamini.


But for Caps, their loss had a telling effect. For a team that had looked invincible in the first part of the season, Caps were out of their depth in the closing stages of the season and were reduced to an ordinary outfit.


That Caps managed to retain the league without winning in their last five matches does not win the league any respect. Just three points out of a possible fifteen!


We cannot grumble about how Caps almost lost the title to runners-up Masvingo, because if Masvingo were championship material they certainly should have taken advantage of Caps slip in form.


And adding the fact that Masvingo lost their last two games to teams that were fighting against relegation, and then going on to hail them as the team that took the league contest to the wire, other than a bunch of pretenders who failed to seize a yawning opportunity, will be praising mediocrity.

Controversy followed Caps the whole season.


Earlier in the season, the Harare club was at the forefront of a bitter sponsorship row that cost the league its record sponsorship deal with Econet Wireless. Caps were finally granted permission to display logos of their sponsor, Econet’s rival company Net*One, in an unusual compromise deal that had the league giants forfeiting Econet price money to charity.


But that glitch, reinforced by a chauvinistic attitude towards Econet by politicians who use football as a political playing field, was too much to handle for Econet, which washed its hands of the PSL.


Malawian international winger Joseph Kamwendo, became the first ever foreign player to be crowned Zimbabwe’s Soccer Star of the Year at a function last month.


For another year, Zimbabwean rugby continued to skate on thin ice. But there is no money in rugby, so the infighting there is restrained.


The most disheartening event of the year was the Sables’ elimination by minnows Uganda from the 2007 IRB World Cup qualifiers. Zimbabwe never really clicked apart from a disciplined show at Prince Edward School in July, when a group of hooligans masquerading as the Senegal national rugby team, sensing imminent defeat, charged at the Zimbabwean supporters like a herd of agitated buffaloes in a failed attempt to draw retaliation from the fans and cause abandonment of the match.


This paper was among those rugby followers who criticised Sables coach Chris Lampard, although admittedly the underlying factor for the Sables’ failure is that Zimbabwe just did not have the right players, the right environment, and the right training methods. The union is desperately cash-strapped it cannot afford proper meals for players. Domestic structures are in a shambles.


And the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) is an upsettingly inept organisation which makes grossly biased decisions like having an away team arrive on the eve of a crucial match.


We respect Sables captain Max Madziwa for refusing to criticise both Lampard and Zimbabwe Rugby Union president Bryn Williams. Like Max said, these men are only trying to improve things while everyone else is walking away from the game. That can hardly be disputed, but like we have previously said of the rugby bosses, when you accept something, you have to do it well. You have to pull up your socks next year, ZRU.


Of course, local sports cannot ignore the efforts of Bruce Hobson, the national rugby sevens manager, whose efforts has seen the sevens sides clawing back to international recognisition.


A fortnight ago, Hobson’s Cheetahs showed significant potential in the IRB World Sevens series in George, South Africa. They went through to the semi-finals of the Bowls division, where they lost to Wales. Earlier in the year, the Cheetahs toured Europe and impressed in the Benidorn and Amsterdam Sevens, and also did well in the Mosi and Tusker Sevens in Zambia and Kenya respectively.


With that increasing profile, the team may be regaining its position on the IRB Sevens circuit, and more invitations to the remaining legs of the IRB Series.


The Zimbabwe Davis Cup tennis team was sent reeling out of the Euro-Afro Zone Group One after an inevitable 4-1 home defeat to Israel in August.


If there was anything that was salvaged from that defeat it was that Zimbabwe tennis can no longer live under illusions. Wayne Black has said he is retiring from Davis Cup. Kevin Ullyett may be following suit. The other players we have are simply not good enough to take over from the Blacks and Ullyett. For a long time names of “promising” tennis stars have been thrown around, a number of them glad recipients of United States scholarships. Paul Chingoka, the former Tennis Zimbabwe president has attempted to explain the failure in executing the “raw talent,” but no one seems to have been convinced by the explanations.


Like his brother Peter in cricket, Chingoka faced financial irregularities allegations from his days at the helm of tennis. Results of the probe have been withheld since June.


In all this tangle that is Zimbabwean sports, rose Zimbabwe’s sporting icon Kirsty Coventry, to provide some salvation for Zimbabwe.


In August, Coventry defended her world title Olympic medals in the FINA World Championships in Sydney. She repeated her Athens feat by scooping gold in the 200m backstroke, silver in the 100m backstroke, and bronze in the individual medley.


It appears individual sports suit Zimbabwe better. Remember Nick Price, Elliot Mujaji, Kilimanjalo, and others? In 2005 Zimbabwe sports in general failed terribly to even match a quarter of the efforts of these local great sports stars.