New Zealand, the land of the long white cloud, has always had an almost mystical appeal in the world of sport.
Known as Aotearoa to its indigenous Maori inhabitants, it’s a nation that has risen above its geographical location at the bottom of the world to become, pound for pound, the most formidable nation in world sport.
Just last week, New Zealand’s place in the ICC World Test Championship was confirmed in the same week they beat their trans-Tasman rivals Australia 3-2 in a T20 international series. The Black Caps have always been decent and competitive with willow and leather, but over the last decade they’ve evolved into true world beaters and arguably the most balanced and exciting side in world cricket. And come June, when they line up against India at the Aegeas Bowl in Southampton to decide which is the best test side in world cricket, they’ll be led out by their talismanic captain Kane Williamson, the world’s number one ranked batsman.
Williamson is not the only world beater New Zealand can boast of. Their netball team, the Silver Ferns, are the current world champions having won the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England. They have won the world title five times in all: 1967, 1979, 1987, 2003 and 2019 to rank second only to Australia.
Netball is an integral part of New Zealand’s dynamic sporting culture and with nearly 150 000 registered players, it’s a vital part of their sports ecosystem.
But pride of place in New Zealand belongs to rugby. Indeed, there are few countries whose national identity is as tied to a single sport as New Zealand’s is to rugby. National pride, history, and culture commingle in rabid support for the All Blacks, whose war-cry, the haka, is the embodiment of this national spirit.
Borrowed from the country’s indigenous Maori culture, the haka is a traditional war dance that inspires the All Blacks while issuing a challenge to their opponents to do battle. And the inspiration has been there for all to see and take pride in. The All Blacks are, by far, the most consistently successful sports team in history, with a winning percentage of nearly 80% in over one hundred years of competitive action.
Simply put, the New Zealand national rugby team is nothing short of a sporting phenomenon eclipsing Brazil in football, Australia in cricket and any other top team in any other major sport you could care to mention. What then has allowed New Zealand rugby to be so successful for so long? Their success has not been an accident, but the result of carefully thought out and executed strategies. From driving the numbers of participants at grassroots up through participation and investment, to creating a national ethos that sees everything in a player’s development geared towards making them ready to become an All Black.
New Zealand, two wet and windy islands in the South Pacific, with a population of less than five million, has through strategy, foresight and discipline gone on to become an influential player in global sport – spreading its excellence beyond the rugby field to netball, cricket and even hockey with resounding success. At the heart of it has been a national sports policy that was the culmination of an extensive consultation process and research of best practice.
With the imminent establishment of the National Sports Council in Zimbabwe, which will serve as the successor to the archaic Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), there are lessons that the Ministry of Sport can learn from New Zealand.
However, I fear we may have put the cart before the horse in our attempt to catapult Zimbabwe sport into a more professional era. The structural reform at the SRC should have been the third stage of a three-part revolution that should have started with the creation of a national sports policy and then the strategies and structures needed to bring it to fruition — policy drives strategy and strategy dictates structure.
What Zimbabwe needs is an overarching national sports policy which will serve as the supreme guiding document for sport. A policy driven by a strategy that works in five-year cycles to match our political cycle to allow ministers and the relevant appointees to work with minimal disruption will serve as the genesis of any success we desire to have as Zimbabwe sport. However, the Government and its agencies cannot deliver in isolation.
Our National Sports Associations, like ZIFA, Zimbabwe Cricket, Tennis Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Rugby Union, to mention but a few, have to step up to the plate and come up with strategies in-sync with the national strategy, with key performance indicators to ensure that the work is done and empower the National Sports Council to hold their feet to the fire, if necessary, and create a culture of accountability that has been sorely lacking in Zimbabwe sport.
New Zealand is a shining example of what a nation can achieve if sport is considered an integral part of culture and a people’s way of life. Whether playing, coaching, officiating, managing or supporting, the power of sport can help bind communities and the nation together, enriching the economy while improving the wellbeing of those involved in the sector.
It has managed to extract maximum value from its tiny population, refining their skills set to a point where they’re one of the most dominant nations in the world of sport. Zimbabwe has the people and the spirit, but what we’re missing is the strategy and unity of purpose that will see us transform the future of sport in the country from all bleak to All Black — the symbol of global sporting excellence.