This is utterly gobsmacking!

IndependentSport View with Darlington Majonga

A MONTH has barely lapsed since leading tennis player Genius Chidzikwe fired a sweltering volley at the way Tennis Zimbabwe is mismanaging the game in the country.

Chidzikwe, pouring his heart out after Zimbabw

e went down 1-4 to Greece in a Davis Cup Euro-Africa Zone Group Two relegation play-off, lamented the slothful approach Tennis Zimbabwe queerly preferred towards players and the game itself.

Remember Zimbabwe could only send three instead of the conventional five-man team to Greece because of severe financial constraints, we were told.

Preparations for Davis Cup assignments are no longer taken seriously, complained Chidzikwe, and the special dietary requirements in the run-up to matches are now luxury.

This is the same Tennis Zimbabwe that selected two players for the Davis Cup tie against Norway early this year when the association had no clue if the duo were actively playing tennis at the time or not.

We won’t mention the monies owed to players who have represented Zimbabwe in the Davis Cup competition.

Chidzikwe, in the interview with IndependentSport, summed up the crisis at Tennis Zimbabwe: “We don’t need this approach whereby players are being treated as the last thing to worry about. If you look at the Greece tie, I feel like we were only sent there so that we don’t get fined.”

If anyone doubted Chidzikwe’s sincerity or thought the 27-year-old player was motivated by malice, Tennis Zimbabwe did not even need two weeks to prove its commitment to running down the sport.

Last week, an unsigned statement from Tennis Zimbabwe faxed to our desk left us satisfied the association was hell-bent on stymieing the progress of the game.

We are equally convinced the bombshell left the whole tennis fraternity utterly gobsmacked.

The statement read: “Stakeholders are advised that the Zimbabwe Tennis Open will not be taking place for 2006. The prevailing macro-economic environment did not allow Dairibord Zimbabwe Limited to sponsor the tournament.

“Any inconvenience to the tennis playing fraternity, who had spent a lot of time and effort in preparing for the event, is sincerely regretted. Stakeholders will be advised of any developments in due course.”

It’s disgusting that for the first time in 15 years there is no Zimbabwe Open — the flagship tournament that has given a platform to many players to hone their talents.

The tournament has been an important fixture on the national tennis calendar since 1904 when it was known as the Rhodesia Open.

Though the Open was on and off since its inception, it had not failed to take place since 1991 — incidentally the year Paul Chingoka took over the reins at the then Tennis Association of Zimbabwe.

Over the years we have seen during the modern era of the game sponsors such as Shingai Holdings, RTG, Air Zimbabwe, Natbrew and until recently Dairibord bankrolling Zimbabwe’s flagship tournament — second in importance only to the Davis Cup.

The Open has seen players from South Africa, Zambia, Lesotho and Botswana taking part — a clear sign of the respectability the championship had earned over the years.

Many of Zimbabwe’s tennis players have participated in the tournament, which in a way has been used to gauge the level of competitiveness in the country.

But come 2006, tennis players — including those at the grassroots level — have been denied a prestigious moment to weigh their progress in the game.

It’s outrageous that the Zimbabwe Open fails to materialise the same year the Caltex Open in Mashonaland never saw the light of day as had become traditional during the Easter holidays.

It’s terrible that Old Mutual, which had become synonymous with development tennis in the provinces, has since pulled out as well.

What’s happening, if anyone cares to answer?

Tennis Zimbabwe president Ann Martin and her deputy Tanya Chinhamo would perhaps play the same “macro-economic hardships” tune that all failing administrators spin to their defence.

Granted, Zimbabwe’s economy has been on a freefall for the past seven years that survival for companies — let alone impoverished individuals — has become harsh.

Inflation is wreaking havoc close to the 1 000% mark, as the country grapples foreign exchange shortages that have exacerbated the crisis of imported essentials such as power, fuel, food and drugs.

Given that, Dairibord probably felt the economic challenges had milked it dry that it could not spare a little for tennis. But that’s only a big maybe — until the dairy products company itself convinces us it can surely no longer bankroll the tournament.

But what Martin will most likely not tell us is that her Tennis Zimbabwe executive has been as incompetent as they come.

If we may ask, when did Tennis Zimbabwe know that Dairibord was not in a position to bankroll the Zimbabwe Open this year?

Why didn’t Tennis Zimbabwe seek an alternative sponsor?

Maybe we are expecting too much from Tennis Zimbabwe, which couldn’t find sponsorship to fly a full team to the crucial Davis Cup tie in Greece last month.

What is apparent is a lack of planning and ingenuity at Tennis Zimbabwe.

We have no doubt Chingoka would have pleaded with the government, through the Sports and Recreation Commission, to come to the rescue and non-playing captain Claudio Murape as well as reserve player Takanyi Garan’anga would have travelled to Greece.

With the rapport Chingoka enjoyed in the business community, probably the veteran administrator would have persuaded Dairibord’s Busi Chindove to sacrifice a little for a tournament that had become synonymous with the company’s name.

It’s unfortunate we have to see through this fiasco that Chingoka was not bad at running the game — of course the fund embezzlement charges that brought him down considered.

While Chingoka might have been absolved after a probe into the allegations, it would be important if someone explained where all the money we believed Tennis Zimbabwe was raking from Davis Cup action as well as other financiers went.

We commiserate with all the scholarship players on vacation from the United States who had looked forward to showing us at the Zimbabwe Open what they have learnt abroad.

The Zimbabwe Open surely means as much to Genius Chidzikwe, Gwinyai Tongoona, Dumiso Khumalo and Pfungwa Mahefu as it does to Fadzai Mawisire and Tsitsi Masviba.

But thanks to Tennis Zimbabwe’s commitment, the likes of Takanyi Garan’anga, Takura Happy, Simba Happy, Mbonisi Ndimande, Terrence Mazungaire and Tarik Ismail have been denied the chance to shine on home soil.

At the rate things are going, we only hope Mitchell Nyajeka, Robin Williams, Rudo Mahachi, Prenade Makumborenga, Vimbai Mawisire, Michelle Williams and Tanya Gombera, to mention a few, will not be frustrated out of the game.

For now, we pray Tennis Zimbabwe is not committed to entrenching unmitigated misery in the game.

In the same breadth let’s hope the Tennis Zimbabwe statement announcing the tournament won’t be held this year was not meant to be an epitaph that will haunt tennis forever!