WHEN the Zimbabwe Netball team completed a fairytale run and qualified for the World Cup bonanza in Liverpool, England, the whole nation celebrated their success while the coach and his players literally touched the heavens. But the dreams they had of flying the Zimbabwean flag so high and the pride that comes with being one of only four African teams at the World Cup is slowly turning into a nightmare for our Gems.
This is because the same country that coach Lloyd Makunde and his players want to take pride in representing seems to be letting them down — and badly so.
The Gems could find some solace in the fact they are not the only sporting team that has found themselves crying foul about lack of resources.
There is a worrying trend in the value and attention we give to our national teams and this has come under serious scrutiny again with the way the World Cup-bound Gems have been treated by both the Government and the corporate world.
It makes sad reading that the team, which we all expect to make a statement about the growth of netball in this country and on the continent at large, is still to get tangible financial backing to bankroll their preparations and participation despite their loud pleas for assistance.
The Vitality Netball World Cup will take place in Liverpool from July 12 to 21 with 16 countries vying for the title but our Gems are still struggling to secure basic funding and time is running out fast.
What should have been a story to inspire the girl child to take up sport is, in fact, becoming a source of dismay and yet an avoidable nightmare.
If ever there was a time the nation needed to unite for its sporting heroes, it is now and it must start with but must not be limited to the netball team alone.
The World Cup is the pinnacle of any sport and last year both the Government and the corporate world were guilty of letting down the rugby sevens squad — the Cheetahs — ahead of their participation at the global showpiece in San Francisco, United States.
From the day that the Gems qualified for the World Cup in August last year, shoulders should have been immediately put to the wheel to mobilise resources needed to guarantee them adequate preparations.
Zimbabwe needs to have a culture of rewarding its sporting excellence by fully supporting success stories such as those registered by the netball Gems, rugby Cheetahs and the country’s flagship sporting team, the Warriors, who have also qualified for the African Cup of Nations finals in Egypt.
The Zimbabwe Netball Association have since done their budgets and submitted to all the relevant authorities which indicates that they need US$100 000 to meet all expenses.
They have also written to various stakeholders including the Government through the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation.
However, there is no word from the Government and the corporate has also remained ominously silent.
Their preparations have stalled while their prospective opponents in Group A — Australia, Northern Ireland and reigning Asian champions, Sri Lanka — have been on overdrive in recent weeks.
It is not even acceptable that a World Cup-bound team resorted to camp at a primary school in Mbare because of lack of resources to check into appropriate camping facilities.
Since August last year, the Gems only have a five-team Diamond Challenge in South Africa late last year to show for their preparations.
If not adequately funded, the Warriors could also face the same predicament ahead of their trip to Egypt for the Nations Cup finals.
Apart from the international warm-up matches, national teams also need proper camping facilities, training and playing kits, special diet, conditioning, local transport and in the case of the Gems, they also need sanitarywear and toiletries.
The organisers of this World Cup have also made it clear that teams should fund themselves, which means the Gems would need airfares, transport, food and decent boarding facilities when they get to England.
This calls on the whole of Zimbabwe to come together and play ball and, who knows, the netball brand could be one of the biggest in the coming years.
Sport the world over has become a big industry that could lessen the burden of unemployment if it gets the necessary support.
Zimbabweans have the capacity to find short- and long-term solutions to various challenges that this great nation has often faced and for the sake of the emerging industry of sport, and the netball Gems in particular, there is an urgent need for minds to converge and resolve the problems our sporting heroes are facing.
Next year is Olympics year with the Games taking place in Tokyo, Japan, and the time to step up the preparations for that is now and not a month or two before the event springs into life in July 2020.
We thus call upon the Government and the corporate world to join hands and lead the way in taming the monster of inadequate preparations and lack of funding for sporting teams.
Big tax incentives for companies that support sport could be a major stepping stone from a Government policy point.
Source : The Herald