By Ellina Mhlanga
The year 2011 marked a new chapter in the running of the Copa Coca-Cola football tournament in Zimbabwe as the organisers of the event spread their wings to sponsor the girls competition that has also become popular within the school system.
Just like the boys inaugural finals held at Gifford High in 1989, the first edition of the girls’ finals took place at Gifford in 2011 with Vainona from Harare emerging winners when they defeated Selonga from Matabeleland South.
The first edition was staged separately from the boys event.
Vainona went on to retain the title the following year, beating Masvingo’s Chidyamakono 2-0 in the final, in Victoria Falls.
But, for Chidyamakono, that was the beginning of their incredible journey in the tournament that has seen them claiming the title for five consecutive years under the guidance of coach Yeukai Chiruvu.
They first laid their hands on the trophy in 2013 and since then they have underlined their dominance in the annual competition.
The tournament has made a huge mark on the lives of thousands of young players throughout the country.
Some of them have made it into the Dream Teams selected during the national finals and have had the opportunity to attend international camps outside the country.
And, for the first time, last year saw the girls’ side joining the boys to make their maiden appearance at the global camp in South Africa.
The team selected during the finals in Bindura was led by Chiruvu and the five-time Copa Coca-Cola winning coach reckons the inclusion of girls in the tournament has helped in promoting their participation at grassroots level.
“It was quite a good experience for the girls to play at that level for the first time, it was good for them to realise they are also recognised for what they do.
“Coca-Cola has gone a step further in trying to tackle this gender issue, including them in the tournament, and giving the girls the opportunity to go for that international camp.
“We are very happy about what Coca-Cola has done for us. They have made some of these girls realise their dreams. Some have managed to go as far as Durban. It has raised their self-esteem, just to know that they are also being recognised.
“As a female coach I am very proud of Coca-Cola, they have given the girls the opportunity to shine,” said Chiruvu.
With women football in the country still fighting to get as much attention and recognition as the men’s game, Chiruvu believes there are some positives to take from the schools competition.
“People are now interested, you see now that competition from zonal level each and every year is going up. More schools want to compete, so Copa Coca-Cola has raised the standard of girls’ competition.
“It has raised interest and support from schools and the community.
“We (Chidyamakono) started taking part in 2012, we were still learning, even the competition was not that tough. But as we are progressing the competition is becoming tougher and tougher.
“As a coach I think each and every year you need to add new tactics in order to come out with these results. Every year it’s a new year, new team and different tactics,” Chiruvu said.
On her personal experience as a coach, she said the tournament has given her the opportunity to showcase her talent and Chiruvu went on to attain her ZIFA Level One coaching certificate.
“I am now a Level One certificate holder, which is step further in developing myself and I have plans to keep on studying,” Chiruvu said.