Tennis Zimbabwe manager, Cliff Nhokwara, has been described as one of the best administrators in local sport whose reputation is being thrashed by forces opposed to his professionalism.
Questions over Nhokwara’s handling of International Tennis Federation funds and equipment for the Junior Tennis Initiative have been rubbished by those within the game as a deliberate attempt to tarnish the reputation of the administrator.
Actually, the support coming from ITF, for the Junior Tennis Initiative, has made a huge difference for many young and aspiring tennis players, as they are being given the platform to showcase their skills.
Some have actually realised their dreams through this programme, which has been running for years, and was previously known as the Schools Tennis Initiative.
The initiative, approved by the ITF, runs in Mutare where it focuses on the underprivileged young players, mainly drawn from schools in high density suburbs, targeting the 10-and-Under players and, to a certain extent, the 12-year-old and 14-year-olds as a follow-up programme.
The idea is to create opportunities for the young players into the sport.
Although most of the equipment goes to Mutare, where the Junior Tennis Initiative Centre is based, the remainder is also benefiting other provinces. They get part of the tennis balls for tournaments and part of the equipment is later distributed to coaches involved in development in the various provinces.
The initiative, according to officials and coaches who spoke to The Herald yesterday, has actually had positive impact on the development of sport in the country.
Zimbabwe had even been recommended to host players from Malawi, to participate in the local camps, before the coronavirus outbreak brought things to a halt.
The programme has become such a success story it is now a reference point for the region.
Nhokwara is part of the several administrators who have come on board, along the way, to provide effective leadership necessary to keep the initiative on course.
“He is just a victim of those trying to smear his name, people who are on a mission to try and discredit him,” sources said yesterday.
“He has done a lot for the development of tennis in the country but, you know, there will always be some people out there trying to reverse the gains.”
Tennis Zimbabwe executive member, Vincent Nyatoti, who is also the co-ordinator for the initiative in Mutare, said the programme creates opportunities for those who would possibly not have stood a chance, of playing tennis, because of lack of resources.
“If this development programme had not been started, those who were underprivileged, who could not afford, would not have been able to play tennis,” said Nyatoti.
“Like here, JTI covers, most of the time, for the 10-and-Under players, then 12s and 14s as a follow-up programme.
“The 10-and-Under is the development programme where we go to schools. Our target are those schools in marginalised areas, high density suburbs.
“It’s an introductory to tennis, we go to schools, as was agreed long back . . . We have plus or minus 10 schools, and we are talking about 2 000 kids we introduce to tennis.
“Most of the schools don’t have this equipment in terms of rackets and tennis balls, that’s the equipment we use,” said Nyatoti.
Reports that some development coaches have been questioning Nhokwara, including malicious allegations of misappropriation of funds and equipment, have been dismissed as unfounded.
Tennis Zimbabwe president, Biggie Magarira, on Sunday said the ITF would have raised the red flag if there were any concerns related to the distribution of the equipment.
“I cannot be seen rushing into concluding that someone has done (anything) wrong when there is no evidence,” said Magarira.
“The equipment comes to Zimbabwe under a three-year Junior Tennis Initiative campaign.
“This is the final year and the ITF have actually visited the country and were shown around.
“If there was something amiss, I think investigations would have been instituted against TZ, including Nhokwara.
“We have been discussing on how best we can develop the game in the country.”
Nhokwara believes those who are making malicious allegations against him might have thought he was behind the decision for a mandatory US$15 payment to help the game return following a three-month Covid-19 induced lockdown.
“I think some believe that is me who is behind the US$15 fee,” he said.
“Maybe, there are some people with personal vendettas against me.
“About 70-90 percent of the equipment, which is donated by the ITF towards JTI, goes to our main centre in Mutare and the rest is shared among other provinces.
“For starters, there is no way I wouldn’t have been flagged when audits were conducted.
“Look, TZ equipment does not come in an individual’s name.
“Cliff (Nhokwara) does not receive the association’s money.”