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Where’s Mungwari and his athletes?

IndependentSport View – With Itai Dzamara

PROBABLY among the individuals who have made the highest number of court challenges in their lifetime is one Joseph Mungwari, an athletics administrator.

The Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) expelled Mungwari, former president of the then Amateur Athletics Association of Zimbabwe (AAAZ), together with his entire executive in 2000.

The reasons for the expulsion of the executive included failure to submit audited financial statements for three years, maladministration and favouritism in selection as well as violation of constitutional stipulations regarding the selection of members into athletics leadership.

An interim executive led by Albert Muyambo as the president and Thabani Gonye as the secretary-general was appointed by the SRC to run the affairs of the sport in the country.

Athletics, just like most other sporting disciplines in the country, was walking wounded – without sponsorship, structures crumbling nationwide and performance standards tumbling.

Mungwari spent most of the time between 2000 and last year filing challenges in the courts against his expulsion from the AAAZ. He also challenged on several occasions decisions to have elections to choose a substantive leadership for the athletics body.

All he wanted was the reinstatement of his de-registered executive. This sucked a lot of energy from athletics, as attention would focus on the squabbling as well as jostling for power.

At the same time, it inevitably invited the isolation of Zimbabwe from the international athletics arena.

It will be remembered how the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) almost excluded Zimbabwean athletes from the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in Manchester, England.

The international body however allowed Zimbabwean athletes to participate, albeit with inadequate preparations that cost the team.

Zimbabwe had for two years been ineligible for annual grants from the IAAF, which plays a major role in preparations for major events as well as provides a lifeline in the running of local athletics.

Efforts by the interim committee towards correcting a number of issues on the athletics scene, which included organising elections as per IAAF instructions, failed on several occasions as Mungwari would rush to the courts seeking the continuation of the impasse.

The courage and determination with which Mungwari pursued his agenda would have led us into believing here was a man seriously eager to commit himself to the sport. Probably with the conviction that he would lead athletics to greater heights in this country.

Mungwari eventually bounced back at the helm of the athletics body, which had changed its name to become National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe (NAAZ), last year through elections boycotted by members of the interim committee. The recommendation by IAAF and the SRC to have a merger of members from Mungwari’s camp and those in the interim executive couldn’t be implemented. The result was the unchallenged take-over of the NAAZ leadership by Mungwari.

He retained the throne for which he had frantically fought for three years only to find it indifferent. The three years he had spent troubling the courts with athletics squabbles had exacerbated the myriad problems afflicting the sport in the country.

And, with such a pathetic state of affairs, it would appear all that Mungwari was fighting for was the top position in local athletics administration for the mere sake of sprucing up his CV.

Mungwari and his executive at NAAZ are conspicuous by their absence from the sporting arena. They are conspicuous by their silence. Athletics, which is one of the few sports in the country that easily has identity at grassroots level, is also nowhere to be seen. It is languishing in obscurity.

The national structures have further crumbled. I learnt this week that provincial leaderships, which according to the NAAZ constitution must be changed through elections annually, have not held elections since 1999. New members to provincial executives have either been appointed or co-opted, precisely one of the key reasons cited by the SRC when it de-registered Mungwari’s executive in 2000.

There are eight NAAZ provinces under which clubs countrywide are affiliated. However, what only remains are names and nothing occurs on the ground. Most clubs have folded while the existing have in essence nothing to do due to the lack of national competitions.

NAAZ has so far this year failed to organise credible national competitions largely because of poor administration as well as lack of sponsorship. The formerly major features on the athletics calendar such as the Dairibord National Championships, the Chibuku National Championships and the Mobil National Championships cannot be compared to the circus that currently characterises athletics in this country.

Provincial competitions have either lost their lustre or are very few and far between. For example, Mashonaland province has held one poorly organised competition in Kadoma last month since the beginning of the year.

NAAZ has failed to organise a single competition for the purpose of selecting athletes for the Olympic Games in Greece next month. Selection and preparations for major competitions such as the Olympics must involve facilities that are up to standard, with tartan tracks as well as electronic timing.

In Zimbabwe only three venues, the National Sports Stadium, University of Zimbabwe and National University of Science and Technology, meet the basic standards.

Just where are Mungwari and his executive? Where have they dragged athletics?

The hunger for power that Mungwari showed must be justified through hunger for success and achievement!

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