QUITE a lot has been said and written about just how New Zealand, a small nation with a population of just 4,7 million people, dominate world rugby in such swashbuckling manner.
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO
Modern scientific research could delve into the reasons why this is the case, just like scholars have established why Kenyans and Ethiopians are so good at distance running.
In the New Zealand scenario, though, the question of their greatness in rugby may not require rocket science. All it could take really is a simple explanation: growing up with rugby, and the sport being an integral part of the New Zealand culture throughout the length and breadth of the country.
A common sight in any part of New Zealand, across all social classes, is barefoot children on their way from school — throwing a rugby ball at each other.
They say that one of the first things that Kiwi kids are taught at school is to catch and pass a rugby ball. For many years, rugby has been hardwired into the Kiwi national psyche and the country has done well to feed off this strength. The product is a well-oiled machine of a national team called the All Blacks. But it can not only be nations like New Zealand that should capitalise on a sport that is played and watched widely across the country by pretty much everybody.
Who imagined years ago that netball, a sport played by poor schoolgirls and women in Zimbabwean rural areas and townships, can one day be represented by a national team from this country at a World Cup and making people across the sporting world start to sit up and take notice?
Well done to the Gems, regardless of what happens in this World Cup, to me they have already archived something for Zimbabwe to be immensely proud of.
But what is astonishing is that for a game that is by far the most popular among women across our country, in fact Zimbabwe’s number two sport in terms of mass participation, netball is only starting to receive mainstream recognition now.
Yet, as the Gems have proved in their debut World Cup, their sport can be a real torch-bearer for this country because like what rugby is to New Zealand, netball in Zimbabwe has the numbers — played by women in the remotest parts of the country right through to the towns and cities.
Take the example of Malawi. With a football team that hardly gets any opposition worried, the Malawians have long recognised their netball team as the one that puts their country on the world sporting map.
In netball they know they have a great chance to be among the best, far better than in any other sporting discipline played in Malawi.
And the Queens, as the Malawian team is called, are always somewhere in there challenging for honours.
They are one of Africa’s best sides. While Zimbabwe are playing in only their first World Cup, Malawi are participation in the ongoing edition for the sixth consecutive time since 1995.
In 2007 they finished a respectable fifth position.
It is only a matter of time before they start winning major tournaments.
Recently media colleagues and I were talking about how authorities in Zimbabwe really needed to introduce what we termed a “national sports policy”: standard national colours for all representative teams and sportspersons, standard emblem, official nicknames.
One of the key stages of this exercise is to identify our areas of strength as a sporting nation, with netball — no doubt — occupying a special place at the very top of that list.
More importantly, as the old adage goes, we then need to put our money where our mouth is to get maximum results.