No brigadier, prove your patriotism first!

IndependentSport View Darlington Majonga


OVER the years we have watched the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) fighting tenaciously against itself to prove its uselessness, but since the turn of the year we have witnessed how the body can be dangerous to the games tha

t it is meant to oversee.

Last week SRC chairman Gibson Mashingaidze, a serving brigadier in the army, shocked the world when he reportedly prescribed compulsory patriotism lessons at the infamous youth training camps for all sportspersons who wish to represent Zimbabwe on the international stage.

According to state television, Mashingaidze in a report to the Ministry of Sport said national service training would ostensibly ensure “the total and permanent eradication of the dangerous, distractive, unproductive, unpatriotic and mercenary mentality currently being experienced in national teams”.

It seems Mashingaidze was angered when the Warriors refused to travel to Egypt for the African Nations Cup finals until they got their overdue monies. So if demanding what you were promised and worked hard for is construed as unpatriotic behaviour, then “unpatriots” abound.

The military man said: “We recommend that a government policy be adopted where all participants representing national teams be products of the national youth service. It would instil patriotism to sportsmen.”

Don’t be alarmed. It’s the same Mashingaidze who did not raise a sweat to prove that he is interested in being taken seriously as a sports administrator when he controversially purged Zimbabwe Cricket board members who had queried the way the game was being run in January.

Besides purging white and Indian administrators from the board while retaining Peter Chingoka, the chief protagonist in the cricket feud, Mashingaidze brazenly told a stunned media that he would not lose sleep if Zimbabwe lost their Test status as long as patriotic players were in the national team.
 
We are sure many are still wondering whether he knows what Test cricket means to the livelihood of the game in Zimbabwe — and anywhere else in the world.

It seems the SRC suddenly made a discovery that all was not well in sport after President Robert Mugabe volleyed a broadside at the Zimbabwe Football Association for the way it is mismanaging the game. 

Sports minister Aeneas Chigwedere has also been behaving like a cat on a hot tin roof when in fact he has been blindly overseeing the deterioration of sporting activities in the country.

In a fierce bid to parrot Mugabe’s view and prove to the dear leader their “worthiness”, the sport politicians’ achievement might only be to distract attention from the real ills and sabotaging our progress in sport.

Mashingaidze is only right as far as he blames Zifa for its well-documented bungling including the non-payment of players’ bonuses, attachment of the association’s property and lack of strategic planning.

But we are afraid his recommendation to drill sportspeople in patriotism at discredited camps — which have produced militias who went on to beat the daylights out of innocent Zimbabweans in Zanu PF’s name during elections — might leave jailed Zifa chairman Rafiq Khan as a saint while the SRC itself runs away with the Bible.

Anyway, we should not wonder why Mashingaidze thinks it’s necessary to subject sportspeople to military training — if not brainwashing — when facts are replete why Zimbabwe finds it hard to make a mark on the international stage: he and his motley band of commissioners have not done anything to prove they are not utterly incompetent.

The word patriotism has been so abused by ruling party politicians that simply having a different opinion from Zanu PF would cast one’s jingoism in serious doubt. Now that the same rhetoric has been roped into sport, we have to be very scared.

We must not forget that Zanu PF at its congress last December expressed strong intentions of having a say, if not total control, in all sporting disciplines. Many people have already expressed their uneasiness at the growing influence of military personnel in the civil service and other government departments.

It would be unfortunate, if not tragic, if this patriotism mantra packaged as the panacea to our sporting failures were entertained. The rhetoric stinks in its hollowness.

In fact, this crass “patriotism” drive is in simple terms militarisation of sport that will aggravate the morass that has become Zimbabwe’s sport.

Imagine Warriors striker Benjani Mwaruwari or national cricket captain Terry Duffin clad in green military fatigues toy-toying at one of the Border Gezi camps before they are okayed to represent Zimbabwe.

What evidence does the brigadier have that Peter Ndlovu, Charles Yohane, Tinashe Nengomasha, Esrom Nyandoro et al are not patriotic when they have many a time put their club careers in jeopardy while playing for the Warriors?
Is turning up for national duty not enough to prove the footballers’ love for their country?
 
The Ivory Coast national team was in 2000 detained in a military camp by the then military government led by General Robert Guei after failing to go beyond the first round of the Nations Cup.
 
The Ivorian footballers were seen as not dedicated to raising their national flag high and were thus detained ostensibly to give them lessons in patriotism. We wonder why that did not win them the Nations Cup the next time, but surely the Elephants’ rising dominance now has nothing to do with that barbaric treatment.

Mashingaidze needs to be told that his warped ideas belong to totalitarian regimes that, as he should know, have become unfashionable in this era.

Patriotism should be an inherent virtue that cannot be forced down anyone’s throat if the conditions are not there for one to naturally love his or her country.

If anyone needed reorientation, it appears people like Mashingaidze and his colleagues in government are the ones who need lessons in patriotism. They should first prove their patriotism and devotion by coming up with proper sport development policies and funding.

At the moment, Zimbabwe’s crisis is not that our sportspeople have a serious deficiency of patriotism but that they are simply not good enough. They are not good enough because our administrators have not been patriotic enough to devote their energies on nurturing talent.

We only hope our young footballers will not be force-marched to the “green bomber” camps — where, surprisingly, politicians who want us to believe they are more patriotic than any other Zimbabwean do not want at all to enrol their own children.

Finally, let’s pray that Mashingaidze was only joking and not singing for his supper.

dmajonga@yahoo.com