WEDNESDAY evening under normal circumstances would have be a very special night, that time of the year when true Zimbabwean sporting excellence is celebrated and rewarded—amid song, fanfare and merriment.
For a nation that punches above its weight in a variety of disciplines and produces athletes envied by many countries across the world, being chosen as the best from amongst all the sporting codes is a pretty special recognition.
Sadly, for a ceremony that should honour the finest Zimbabwean sporting talent, the Annual National Sports Awards (Ansa) have been long robbed of their prestige.
In some recent years, the once-acclaimed event has been a complete joke, a downright insult to the yesteryear great men and women who have walked to the podium to receive this coveted award.
Artwell Mandaza—the iconic sprinter who once ran a world-record equaling time, Colin Bland—one of the greatest fielders in the history of Test cricket, Jim Redman—six-time Grand Prix world champion road racer, Andy Flower –number one ranked Test cricket batsman in the world, Cara Black—world number one ranked women’s doubles player, Kirsty Coventry—Africa’s most decorated Olympian.
Fittingly, as the awards have slowly lost their lustre, so has the hype dampened. Wednesday night was no exception.But what causes an event that has previously crowned such world-class quality to fast disintegrate into mediocrity, rewarding modest achievement with the country’s highest individual honour in sport?
Look no further than a rigid selection criterion, to offer a diplomatic answer.
The inflexibility lies in that the Ansa awards recognise success only in international competitions, both at team and individual sport level, imprudently ignoring the consistent and very necessary changes that have taken place in professional sport over the last three decades or so.
Ansa should change with the times.Failure to move with the times could see the awards plummet further from grace because the selective entry rules of the event means that not all the athletes that win in the different categories are truly the best sporting talent Zimbabwe has to offer.
Dishing out accolades on technicality defeats the whole purpose of awards, which is to nurture excellence, and reward it. Take, for example, Marvelous Nakamba. Which Zimbabwean in the year under review played at a higher level of sport anywhere on the planet, and shone brighter, than the Aston Villa and Warriors midfielder?
But that Nakamba was pretty average in the colours of his country in 2019 and that Zimbabwe had a miserable campaign at the Africa Cup of Nations finals means that the man who has otherwise been the biggest global sporting name from Zimbabwe over the past six months, probably the best performing, cannot even be considered, under the existing benchmark, for his own country’s national sports award.
The same could be said of another European-based footballer, Tino Kadewere. To score freely as Kadewere has done in the tier-two division of French football, not the worst competition in the world, a feat that has earned him a US$16,6 million move to top-flight club Lyon, you would imagine that he, too, should be in with a massive chance of walking away with Zimbabwe’s biggest individual sporting accolade.
All these are warning signs of much-needed change in the nomination process of the national awards of a country that takes itself seriously on the sporting front.
What also need to change are some of the so-called experts that make the crucial decisions. What could be the plausible reason, honestly, for omitting from among the Team of the Year nominees a national team that hoisted the continent’s only Test rugby championship of the season, and also that team’s coach from the Coach of the Year category?
One blunt answer: lack of knowledge of a variety of sporting disciplines, and a lack of understanding of the ethos and heritage of Zimbabwean sport.