IT is quite remarkable that this Sunday will be just two days after the anniversary of the disaster of Harare Sports Club on March 22 last year; and a few hundreds of those cheering spectators that witnessed the cricket tragedy will be in full force at the National Sports Stadium at the weekend to witness another defining moment in Zimbabwean sport.
By Enock Muchinjo
A lot of the familiar faces from football grounds were there at Harare Sports Club — chief among them the popular cheerleaders Chris “Romario” Musekiwa and Alvin Zhakata — joining an unprecedented 18 000-strong crowd that watched in horror as Zimbabwe’s cricket team crumbled at the hands of minnows United Arab Emirates to miss out on a spot to the World Cup for the first time since 1983.
While the outcome on the field still hurts to this day, the sights and sounds from that otherwise fateful day, the beautiful scenes in the stands, are memories to last a lifetime.
You can call it a rare show of unity among Zimbabwean sports fans, but that is really how it ought to be, for our country is a proud multi-sport nation and outside South Africa on the continent, we can boast of having quite a few sporting disciplines that we can dare a lot of people at.
If the occasion does not involve the national football team, you will not go to a lot of countries in Africa and witness a crowd as big and as passionate as we saw on March 22 last year at Harare Sports Club.
Perhaps you will have to go to Madagascar, a rare African country indeed, where the national rugby team draws larger crowds than the football side in the stadium used by both teams.
To the surprise of many, Madagascar’s footballers are on their way to a historic maiden Africa Cup of Nations appearance in Egypt in June and July, a momentous occasion in the history of the Indian Ocean island.
While Madagascar sealed their qualification in October 2018, Zimbabwe have it all to play for against the Congo at home in Harare on Sunday, the Warriors needing just to avoid defeat to qualify for the Afcon finals for the second consecutive time.
The Zimbabwe team often attracts constant rounds of ridicule at home — a lot of it quite frankly undeserved when you look at how neighbouring nations stand in awe of our footballers — but the Warriors have in recent times done pretty well to earn the kind of respect they should always be accorded.
With cricket’s World Cup ambitions having suffered a cruel fate at the unlikeliest hands of the Emiratis, the footballers have the wonderful opportunity of being the knight in shining armour for Zimbabwean sport this year.
So, while the Musekiwas and Zhakatas of our time will definitely be doing what they know best at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday, it will really be nice, too, to see at lot of the diehards of Castle Corner, Embankment and the Centurion Bar Pavilion also coming through to support the Warriors on this mammoth national mission.
Pulling together as one nation, there will not be a need to beware the Ides of March this time around.