Zim sports an ‘Animal Farm’

Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, attending any of the former Group A schools was an enormous privilege. Zimbabwe sport was in rude health, both at grassroots and elite level.

Sports Panorama Mike Madoda

The Golden Girls in 1980 shocked the world by nabbing hockey gold at the Moscow Olympics. Some say they benefitted from the United States-led boycott of the games that saw the leading contenders absent in Russia. But the truth is: you can only beat what’s put in front of you and Zimbabwe certainly wasn’t complaining.

In cricket, Zimbabwe announced their arrival on the international scene with a win over Australia at the 1983 World Cup.

Duncan Fletcher starred with both bat and ball to guide the Chevrons to a victory that made the rest of the world sit up and take notice. Over the next couple of decades, cricket continued to make strides, with the school system churning out some prodigiously talented cricketers: the Flower brothers Andy and Grant, Heath Streak and Henry Olonga — all of whom starred at the 1999 World Cup where once again, the Chevrons shook up the world order by storming into the Super Six stage of the tournament.

There were others too that are not remembered as much. Jameson High School’s Clive Chadhani — a batsman so good, St George’s famously poached him from the Kadoma school two months into his stint as head boy in 1993. Cricket was serious business.

Rugby was no different. Richard Tsimba, the Black Diamond, shone the brightest at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

His two tries in the 21-20 loss to Romania in New Zealand will live long in the memory, as will the performances of Andy Ferreira and many others that wore the hoops with distinction at the end of that decade.

At school, rugby occupied pride of place — your standing as a student often dictated by your exploits, or lack of, on the field. Jubilee, Weaver and Main Field became household names amongst schoolboys. Even a cursory glance at most school layouts testifies to the importance of the sport — most of the main fields at the former Group A schools are either rugby or cricket fields.

There was a clearly defined hierarchy – rugby and cricket were the principal sports for boys, with hockey and tennis similarly so for girls. Basketball and especially football, were way down the pecking order.

Caps United legend Alois Bunjira was something of a teenage prodigy playing premiership football in the early 90s while at Prince Edward, but even he will be forced to admit that his fellow blueblood from Prince Edward, Costa Dinha who played for the Tigers held greater sway in school circles.

Football was viewed as the poor cousin, a sport for the ghettos and rural areas patronised by the unruly mob. And with sport starting to return to competitive action, it’s clear that attitudes towards the national pastime haven’t changed — if anything the snobbery and elitism has become even more entrenched. Football is the country’s most popular sport, unmatchable in participation and following and yet it seems to be once again playing second-fiddle to the so-called elite codes.

Cricket, rugby and golf have all been given the nod, with varying degrees of health and safety protocols, but the stringiest conditions have been reserved for football.

A two-week, million-dollar bubble concept is being peddled for a sport that can ill-afford such a poorly thought out idea. In truth, it smacks of tokenism and a waste of resources that could be better channeled towards the demands of next season or future national team assignments. It would be irresponsible to spend that sort of money for a kick-about that in truth is of no benefit, save for optics — the impression that something was done and a desire to give a semblance of a fair opportunity for players to be selected for the Chan tournament in January next year.

The plan for a return to action also begs the following questions; why a bubble for football and nothing for rugby, which with its mix of scrums, rucks and mauls is perhaps the most “intimate” sport of all? Why a bubble for the Premier Soccer League and none for Zimbabwe Cricket’s National Premier League — which is in full swing without that millstone around its neck?

Granted, successive Zifa administrations haven’t helped to position football as a productive and professionally run sport, but equally complicit have been those that have turned their noses up at the beautiful game simply because they could not relate to it.

The novel Animal Farm by George Orwell sums it up best. The pigs who control the farm initially gave the impression that all animals were equal. But as they gained more control and began to enjoy the benefits that came with power, it soon became apparent that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” — the most famous quote from the book.

The allegory is a fine illustration of sport in this country; all sport is equal, but the truth is some sports are more equal than others. It feels like high school all over again.

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