AS the curtain comes down on the 2018 sporting season, there is need to reflect on the journey travelled so far with hopes for better fortunes next year and beyond.
There were brilliant results and there were also disappointments in the last 12 months.
For the record, there were no earth-shattering headlines in the country’s most popular sports — football, cricket and rugby. But it was not all gloom.
It was largely a year of mixed fortunes.
From the Chevron’s ICC Cricket World Cup debacle to the historic World Cup qualification by the senior women’s netball team and the magnificent world domination by martial arts specialist Wilfred Mashaya, there is need to put everything into perspective.
Sport is crying out for more attention in 2019. There are a number of events on the international calendar which need support from the Government and the corporate world.
Topping the list is the participation of the women’s netball team at the Netball World Cup in England in July.
Funding has always been a major stumbling block but there have been some extraordinary efforts by Zimbabwean sportsmen to make it to the top despite the challenges.
The Gems are clear on their mission, they are not going to England to make up the numbers but to compete. What is key now is how they are going to prepare for the event.
The team was placed in Group A where they will face the world number one side Australia, as well as other powerhouses Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka.
They always have to bear in mind that the World Cup is a big stage. It is the pinnacle of any sporting event hence the need to be thorough in their preparations to avoid getting embarrassed by their opponents.
In all fairness, this is no longer about the Gems alone. Our national flag is at stake, hence the need for every Zimbabwean to play their part.
The same should happen with all the other national teams and individuals who are going to represent the nation in 2019. We should make sure that they are well-equipped for the task.
That our athletes should be begging for crumbs all the time in order to represent their nation should be a thing of the past. We should be proud Zimbabweans. We have to recognise our hardworking athletes and complement their efforts.
Zimbabwe is also expected to send a delegation to the African Games in Morocco in August. The welfare of our athletes should come first.
It promises to be a busy year across all sports codes as there is also going to be a team for the Athletics World Championships in Qatar. A host of international events have been lined up including the bowls world championship where a team of not less than four will represent the nation in Cardiff, Wales, in May.
On home soil, Zimbabwe is expected to host the senior COSAFA Cup soccer tournament where teams from the 14-member regional bloc are expected to land on our shores.
If the Government gives the necessary guarantees, this would be the first time in 10 years this tournament will be played on home soil. The last time was in 2009.
So there is need to have the infrastructure upgraded in order to meet the minimum requirements. Stadia and accommodation facilities top the list.
Still on football, the Warriors have unfinished business in the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifiers with a home date against Congo-Brazzaville in March. Zimbabwe need to win the match or chalk up a draw to book their place at the finals to be held in June next year.
The host nation will be announced by CAF following the decision to withdraw the rights from defending champions, Cameroon.
The national Under-23 side also need support as they reawaken from their slumber with a date against Mozambique in the Under-23 African Nations Cup. The tournament also serves as the first stage of the qualifiers for the 2020 Summer Olympics men’s football tournament in Japan.
The Government needs to take all the national teams under its wings but there is strong need for the corporate world to chip in.
The Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation got an allocation of $53,5 million from the national fiscus but on paper this is not enough to meet all the needs.
History has shown that as a nation we always neglect our athletes in their hour need — during their preparations or when they require air tickets. But we suddenly recognise them when they make it to the top. We host dinners and arrange functions to celebrate their successes but we are nowhere near during the crucial time of the preparations!
Hopefully, in 2019 and beyond, Zimbabwe will adopt a new culture of doing things because with a little bit more of the support to our athletes and to our teams, the country has the potential to touch the sky.