THE Greek government has told Education minister Aeneas Chigwedere that he is not welcome in Athens for the Olympic Games because he is on the European Union’s
list of banned persons.
The news was devastating for Chigwedere, who could have taken the opportunity to savour the Hellenic culture to which his name bears witness, and perhaps brag about the success of Zimbabwe’s sports policy in the unlikely hope of a medal for the country.
The politics of European sanctions aside, Chigwedere did not deserve a seat on the plane to Athens because his policies are destroying sport.
As Education minister he has embarked on a systemic policy to ensure that hitherto well-run and well-equipped schools are reduced to the same condition as other dilapidated and non-performing government institutions. And he has not fared any better as minister responsible for sport.
I feel Chigwedere, through his policy of forcing schools to charge unrealistically low fees, is the biggest threat to sports development in the country. I recall the minister in an interview at the beginning of the year accusing private schools of buying sports equipment instead of books. Is this the same minister who expects the country to do well in sport when he is throttling sports development?
The team to Athens – comprising about 11 contestants and an equal number of officials – is the smallest fielded in the past 24 years with only four disciplines participating.
“The question is why only four sport disciplines?” Chigwedere pondered.
“Is it out of choice that we are only selecting from the four disciplines?
“We can produce more athletes who can qualify if we make adequate preparations,” he said.
He forgot to mention the role of his ministry in all this. Perhaps Chigwedere is not aware of his responsibility as Sports minister. Let me restate for his benefit what Unesco says about sport.
“Physical education and sport are vital for the overall education of young people. They help children to achieve mind-body unity, to learn how to seek victory and accept defeat, and respect their challenger.
“Physical education and sport facilitate the foundation of democratic and social values through basic concepts such as: no victory at any price, equal opportunities with the same rules for everyone and the will to improve oneself.”
Zimbabwe is being represented at the Olympics by a small team of 11 competitors – Winnet Dube, Lloyd Zvasiya, Lewis Banda, Talkmore Nyongani and Brian Dzingai from athletics, swimmers Kirsty Coventry and Brendan Ashby, and shottist Michael Nicholson. Wayne Black, Cara Black and Kevin Ullyett form a strong tennis team.
“The Zimbabwe Olympic Committee must prioritise the sports that have the potential for medals for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games,” the minister said.
“I would like to urge ZOC to seriously consider their talent base for the next Olympic Games.
“I urge you (the athletes) to prepare hard for us to have more qualifying out of a population of more than 11,6 million. We can produce more athletes who can qualify if we make adequate preparations,” he said.
Dream on Aeneas. The question to ask is: what have you done since Sydney 2000?
There will be nothing to show so long as schools are forbidden to charge fees which are commensurate with services they offer and facilities to hand.
Chigwedere should wake up to the elementary reality that to produce more swimmers who can make Olympic standards, there should be qualified coaches and good facilities.
There is one such facility in Chitungwiza built for the All-Africa Games. At the time we asked whether it would not become a white elephant and were told it would be put to all sorts of uses. Does Chigwedere know that the pool is currently a cesspool of dark green water a metre deep?
The same is true of pools at many former “Group A” schools which have abandoned aquatic sports altogether. Private schools and a few government institutions which can still offer water sports have been told not to raise fees. They will soon be unable to maintain their pools and the Chitungwiza saga will be re-enacted at those schools.
I remember vividly in 1994 writing strongly against the construction of the pool in Chitungwiza saying the huge facility would go to waste after the 1995 All-Africa Games. I was right, as Chigwedere’s ministry has made sure the fears at the time become reality.
Tennis courts at most schools are overgrown with weeds. Equipment for field events in athletics have become antiquated or disappeared altogether. Very few schools have hurdles, mattresses for high jump and pole-vaulting or javelins. Most schools can only perform in track events which explains the poor representation in field events at major competitions.
Cde Minister: schools need money to replace equipment so that athletes do not use spears instead of javelins! You should not dream of Zimbabwe sending hockey teams to the Olympics because state-of-the-art facilities at Magamba Stadium in Harare have been allowed to go to waste.
The Astro-turf surface now has potholes like most of our roads. Can Zimbabwe ever dream of repeating the 1980 feat of an Olympic gold with you as our sports minister? It seems unlikely.