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Zim athletes’ chequered histories

TO PLAY for Kaizer Chiefs as he did, among the first Zimbabwean footballers of the modern era to do so for the glamorous South African club, is ample testimony of Liberty Masunda’s ability at the peak of his career.

Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo

During his playing days here and in South Africa, the former youth international striker also flirted with Zimbabwe’s national team, earning a handful of caps for the Warriors.

It is then a source of international headlines when a man of such background, a former international footballer, gets implicated in a £1 million benefits fraud anywhere in the world.

British press last week reported that England-based Masunda, alongside other Zimbabweans including ex-journalist Clemence Marijeni, pocked £450 000 from a scam in which they made false claims for maternity allowance payments.

While 44-year-old Masunda does not depend of football for a living now, criminal activities of such a serious nature — by a one-time sporting ambassador of a nation — may, one way or another, have repercussions for well-meaning and upright sportsmen from this country intending to advance their careers in the United Kingdom. Of course, every man must ultimately carry his own cross, taking full responsibility for their personal actions. But, unfortunately, on a lot of occasions judgments are made within a context, which sadly tend to prejudice some very good people in the way.

The chequered history of Zimbabwean footballers in the UK — brush with the law after another — does put Masunda’s case into context. Who will forget the infamous incident back in 2004 when some members of Caps United and Highlanders Football Clubs decided not to return to Zimbabwe after a UK tour, vanishing into thin air at just before their flight back home. It is not only the footballers, when you think about it, who have created somewhat of an undesirable reputation for their country in the UK.

In the early 1990s, one of the country’s best black cricketers of that era was released from his short-term contract by a club in England due to reasons, as told by a club official, of “a most embarrassing nature”.

It was later revealed that wallets of teammates had gone missing in the dressing-room on different occasions, only for a couple of them to be found in the Zimbabwean prodigy’s bags.

In later years, another cricketer, also a very promising fast bowler from the townships, was also sent back home to Zimbabwe due to misconduct and indiscipline. And then in 2013, Zimbabwe’s women cricket team star player Sharyce Saili disappeared after a tournament in Ireland. She is believed to have successfully crossed into England from Dublin.

Throw into the debate the recently published horrifying tale in this paper of Simon Mugava, the gifted 27-year-old cricketer facing deportation from the UK after a failed political asylum bid, in which he claimed to be a Zimbabwean opposition activist who risks persecution back home if he was forced to go back. In all this, perfectly good careers have been ruined, and it all points — on most occasions — to lack of life skills in these otherwise talented sportsmen.

Regulators of sports in Zimbabwe, therefore, should reflect on the introduction of compulsory professional mentorship for all our country’s athletes — from the lower levels up to the top.

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