Sports Minister Coltart Promises Crucial Reform

ONE positive aspect of the new power-sharing government could be the appointment of sports enthusiast David Coltart as the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture.

As a schoolboy in Bulawayo, Coltart was a keen cricketer and golfer at Christian Brothers College. He then opened the batting and played rugby as a flanker for the Zimbabwean Law Students Society at the University of Cape Town.

He represented Manicaland at golf in the 1980s, rubbing shoulders with local greats Nick Price, Tony Johnstone and Mark McNulty.  

In a comprehensive interview with IndependentSport this week, Coltart promised transformation across the board in a bid to restore the country’s sporting glory.

“In many respects my vision for sports is the same as education,” he said. “What I said earlier was that we had the finest education in Africa in the 1980s.

The same applies to sports. As a nation we have punched above our weight.

Our hockey women won gold at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and our cricketers constantly perform well. Many of our athletes perform exceptionally well.

“However we have fallen away in the last 10 years, and I would like to restore the sporting glory of our nation. My feeling is that we have certain attributes that should allow us to perform well.

We’ve got this climate which allows our sportsmen and women to play throughout the year, but we tend to disappoint in the major disciplines. In our football we have particularly under-performed. We’ve never gone to the World Cup.

There is no reason why we should not qualify for World Cup. My feeling is that this is tied to the collapse of the economy. The key is the resuscitation of the economy in order to get sponsors back.”

Coltart pledged to revive cricket, a game of special interest to him.

“I’m a passionate supporter of Zimbabwe cricket.I try to watch every game they play,” he said.

“But the demise of our team in the last five years has been a cause of great distress.

I look forward to playing a role in the rehabilitation of our cricket.Nothing will give me greater satisfaction.

“Cricket needs to be restored. We need to revive the national academy at Highlands, and indeed we need academies in football and rugby and in the other smaller disciplines.

 

But cricket is an area of my greatest concern. It has a high profile and generates foreign currency.

Whilst I commend our young team for performing brilliantly in the recent tours of Bangladesh and Kenya, the fact remains that we have far too many talented players outside Zimbabwe that are not playing for the national team.

“When I look at Sean Ervine’s average at Hampshire I say to myself ‘here is a guy who should be playing for us’. We need guys like that back.

We need someone like Andy Flower to come back and coach our national team.The encouraging thing about cricket is that we can reclaim our former glory very quickly.”

He said Zimbabwe could return to the Test arena sooner than anticipated.

“Subject to us addressing concerns over accounts in ZC, and subject to us getting all our players back to chose the best team, it is not impossible to get back our Test status as soon as possible.

We have to get politics and racism out of sports and start to perform.”

Administration matters will come under scrutiny during his reign, he said.

“I don’t know the situation there.I have read the allegations and the defences. I want to know the truth and make recommendations to cabinet.I certainly want to have sight of the issues. I don’t want to speculate and rely on rumour.“I stand for transparency.

Unless there is transparency in our sports bodies we will continue to under-perform. Ineffectiveness affects ability to perform.

We’ve seen (this) in the English team recently when the captain fell out with the manager. Morale plummeted.

“Tatenda Taibu was one of our brightest prospects, but now he is involved in all these wrangles with officials. Instead of concentrating on his game he is focusing on that.

It is affecting his performance. Because of that the team is prejudiced.”

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key this week said he was prepared to order the players not to tour Zimbabwe in July on safety and health grounds.

Coltart said the Kiwis have an obligation to tour.

“My call to the New Zealanders is clear and unequivocal,” he said.“They’ve got to give this coalition government a chance, and that applies to all levels.I would like to see the New Zealand team touring Zimbabwe.

If need be I will go to New Zealand to persuade them to come, just the same way as I’ve been negotiating with teachers’ unions to get schools open.

“By saying that I am not turning a blind eye to the inadequacies in cricket and our country.My call must not be interpreted that way.My call is in the interest of the public, the players and cricket in Zimbabwe. My call is in terms of sportsmanship.

“It also applies to the broader context of political sanctions. We need to build measures.For as long as people are in detention it’s hard to lift sanctions.The same applies to cricket.

For as long as there are concerns there, my words will fall on deaf ears.If the whole political situation has not changed it will be hard for them to come.

My call for the New Zealanders to tour is based on the expectation that the new government will be looking into these issues.

We will look at the wider political issues seriously.My wish is that by the time they come in July the issues would have been dealt with.”

Turning to rugby, Coltart said the country could do well if the best players chose to stay.

“The front-row of the Springboks is controlled by two Zimbabweans, the Beast and Brian Mujati.

The Western Force in Australia have David Pocock. With that kind of talent coming from here there is no
reason Zimbabwe should not perform at the level of the Super 14.

That’s definitely a goal I have for rugby. We’ve got to talk to the SARU to get our team in a stronger league there. But again that is tied to professionalism and resuscitation of the economy.”

Minor disciplines would also get attention, Coltart promised.

“In hockey, clearly the major priority must be to repair the two international stadiums in Harare and Bulawayo. Until we do that our hockey teams will be at a constant disadvantage.

“In swimming we have Kirsty Coventry, our Olympic champion.

But I think one of our greatest failures is not encouraging the vast majority of Zimbabweans to take up swimming. We need to see black Kirsty Coventrys rise to the fore.I hope we can encourage Kirsty to come back to Zimbabwe and coach the next generation of Zimbabwean swimmers.

The key is to revitalise pools. Children have no pools to swim so funds permitting, we hope to revitalise the pools, particularly that world-class facility in Chitungwiza.”

He said Zimbabwe must take cue from leading sporting nations who use their former sportsmen to develop upcoming talent.

“Our tennis has declined. We used to be right up there in the Davis Cup. The secret to reviving tennis is to get back our former stars like the Blacks to coach.But again this ties to the economy.

They can only come back when they can make a living here.

“Just like in golf. We have some of the finest courses in the world. Some are run down but most are still functioning.

We need to persuade our former stars like Nick Price and Tony Johnstone to come back to our country to revitalise the sport.

What is encouraging is that we continue to produce top golfers like Marc Cayeux, who recently qualified for the British Open.”

Coltart’s immediate assignment is to help fund the national Sevens rugby team’s participation at the World Cup early next month, and the national soccer side which is set to take part in the inaugural African Nations Championship.

“Zifa came to see me today (Wednesday) wanting money. My reaction was to call the Minister of Finance. I’m still waiting for a response. I have the same policy regarding the Word Cup. But – we need to emphasis the government is cash-strapped. We don’t have sufficient money to pay civil servants in the middle of this country’s worst financial crisis.

“While we are sympathetic to the needs of Zifa and the World Cup, we cannot ignore the reality that there is very little money.

At the moment I need to stress that education is the main focus. Until we’ve got children back in schools we can’t focus on sports.

We hope that in the next week or so schools will open and then we can turn to the sports side of the ministry.”

Sports, through the Sports Commission, got a paltry budget allocation of just over US$300 000 in January.

“We are in the process of redoing the budget, but in that process we come up with the same problem; that coffers are empty.

What we now have to do in the short term is to mobilise donors. In the long term we must then rely on the resuscitation of the economy, which is incredibly difficult in the context of world recession.”

Stronger sporting ties with South Africa, he said, should be encouraged.

 

“We can greatly benefit from ties with South Africa because they are obviously very strong and their sports are professional. Like I said we need to get our rugby team in a stronger league there, and also get at least two of our local cricket sides to play in the 45-over MTN domestic championship.”

Coltart believes Zimbabwe can still benefit when South Africa host next year’s Football World Cup.

“I had a meeting with the Minister of Tourism, Walter Mzembi, and then spoke with the prime minister who is in contact with some members of South Africa’s 2010 Organising Committee.

“Synergies between the two ministries are crucial. Even at a late stage like this, I think we can still benefit. I would like to see things stabilise so that some of the teams can set bases here.

At the very least we need to promote Zimbabwe as a tourism venue so that people can stop over here. I see golf as key to that.

The fans who will come to South Africa are rich enough to play golf. Golf, sport and tourism blend well. We need to promote our golf courses and tourism venues.”

BY ENOCK MUCHINJO