Zimbabwe athletics: Where are we going?


WE all know what happens to a fish when its head starts rotting. Four people representing two out of 10 clubs cast their votes for the new Bulawayo Athletics board office bearers at chaotic elections held at Milton High School sports pavilion on Thursday, reads a story in one of the newspapers in Zimbabwe.

Run, Jump, Throw with Bhekizulu Khumalo.

A few weeks ago Zimbabwe was second last at a track and field competition in Botswana. What a shame. This country once competed with South Africa for the top spot in the medals table.

This is just but a tip of the iceberg in the beloved sport. In the past week I have followed with interest Facebook postings by current and retired athletes worried about the state of athletics in Zimbabwe. Some important points are raised in the postings. One is shocked why on earth a country like Zimbabwe is not managing to send a relay team to the World Championship’s 4x400m race, while we have in the past had very good world-class sprinters.

What happened to the development structures and programmes that produced Thabani Gonye, Philimon Haneck, Phillip Mukomana, Themba Ncube, Nelton Ndebele, Malvern Bonde and many others?

In the late 1990s to early 2000 we had a programme where young and junior athletes would be brought together into two to four-week training camps every school holiday and work with the country’s best coaches in each and every event. I once lead this team of experts and if you go back to the short list of London 2012, all those athletes are a product of such programmes. What happened, where did we go wrong? Many people would point fingers at the economic meltdown, but five years after dollarisation, our association is asking athletes to pay to represent the country.

Why is it that we fail to attract sponsorship for a sport with so many household names? Talk of Artwel Mandaza, Tendai Chimusasa, Julia Sakala, Zephania Ncube, Tapfumanei Jonga, Stephen Muzhingi, Winneth Dube, Gaily Dube, Juma Phiri, Ndabezinhle Mdlongwa and many others. The ordinary men in the street will have something to say about them.

Somebody posted: “Zimbabwean sport is run by the wrong people . . . just a group of power hungry idi#ts. No knowledge of what needs to be done!” Somebody’s opinion. Another one says: “Races are being organised by tsotsis looking for money to put in their empty pockets. Runners come from all over the country for mahala. There are some rules to be followed, but these old people just keep quiet.” Another says: “I agree with you. That’s my main issue. How can someone organise a race lying to athletes about prices and at the end they don’t pay? I’m really angry and there’s no one from the association to represent athletes.” All this is in reference to us who lead the sports. How far true is it? Can we stand there and truly say these are lies or mere fallacies?

We need few smart people and good strategies to put things back on track, is the feeling out there. Athletes need to take the sport back, because it’s their sport and they are the sport. They should come together and form athlete’s commissions and let their voices be heard. The view out there is that what is needed in the sport is to call for a meeting for all the athletes in the country. There is need to choose the person who understands running, not road races only, not track and field only. Sometimes there is a big problem with runners – too much selfishness.

Some of the runners go behind the rest’s backs and tell the federation who has to represent the country or give money or shoes for them to benefit. The sport does not need such a thing. Athletes must feel free to communicate with the association. They need to be open to share ideas of what they think and what can benefit them.

They don’t need an association which uses them for its own advantage to make money and to get powers to pull the athletes down. The athletes feel and correctly believe they are the bosses because without them there would be no association.

“We want to see our sport grow, have competitions in our own country, hosting the games and so on. And it’s possible because we have been doing that in the past, why not now?” So they say.

Zimreadingcommunity commented: “I am glad you have just brought up this issue, it shows that someone cares and really needs to do something, However, I would resist negative comments. Instead, take action, consult, find ways to achieve your dream (making the system work). Engage with current and prospective individuals. I am sure you will understand it’s not going to be that easy . . . you will make it and one day we will call you a visionary. I have confidence in you.”

We want the good old days back. We want the All-Africa Games etc, we don’t want to sit down crying and complaining with no action. So our vision as athletes is to correct all the mistakes the association is making and has made, and bring in new structures and I’m very sure it took years to build our running sport, but as long as we get the support and plans, things will be back to normal. I’m interested in good results and more development. The system has to change and be taken seriously for the next generation.

This is a long overdue assignment to Zimbabwe athletics, but the starting point is to check what other countries are doing with their former athletes and then compare this with our system, who of these guys is in decision-making positions? Then we will have a stepping stone for the betterment of our athletics.

Some athletes had this to say: “This is a big war than you think of and just let go, and it’s everywhere. Check SA athletics, it is the same as Zimbabwe and please it’s so painful I do understand. But for now just focus on your next big races and achieve your dream goals as an athlete, then when it’s time help them out and you have seen it all. We will be happy with your knowledge and experience in athletics. Even the youngsters will be proud of you.

Remember we started our careers in those harder times, but who knows that we could go that far and set records and made households names? So sometimes it’s better not to say anything, than to say how you truly feel and make things worse.” Opinions, opinions, opinions!

This was my contribution: “You are raising very important and critical points. Athletes current and former, let’s contribute in shaping the future. It is not only about talking but action. As one of you pointed out, there is need to study and review how others have developed their systems. Maybe athletes themselves should start running academies. Let us see direct contribution into TID programmes.

May I challenge the senior and retired athletes to put something back into the sports. Our sport is not expensive. Most clubs grooming the young stars are not sponsored. So many academies have come up in soccer courtesy of the players themselves.”

A post came later: “You are right there Mr Khums. Plans have to be made for athletes by athletes.”

To rest my case let me say: It is sad that even those that build their lives from the dusty track and fields in Zimbabwe have never looked back to check. I will advocate for an adopt a junior athlete project, where each and every current and past athlete adopts some young athlete, assists them with training and competition regalia, equipment and travel expenses.
We are there to coach them, but sometimes their training, competition and social needs (eg fees) are beyond what individual efforts can carry. But together as one taking care of one athlete each, mark my words the next two, three, five, 10 years will see a difference. Imifula igcwala ngezifudlana. I rest my case for the day.
The Facebook discussion still rages on.