CHENNAI:As Zimbabwe is getting ready for a historic presidential election on July 30 — its first without former leader Robert Mugabe in nearly four decades after independence — a nation-wide cash crunch is an issue affecting all sectors in the country. Sports is one among them.
A few days ago, the Pakistan cricket team who were in the country for a five-match ODI series got an insight into what’s really going on. Their departure from Harare for a match in Bulawayo was delayed after Zimbabwe Cricket failed to book a hotel for them due to lack of money. While the situation was resolved in a few days, this is something that has been bothering the African nation which considers sport as an important part of their culture.
While football is their most popular sport, cricket too is considered equally important. And if these two sports are struggling for funds, one can imagine the status of less-popular sports like squash. “Though we have a Zimbabwe Squash Association, there is no funding and all kids are here on their own money. All our players come from well-off families” Muhwati Blessing, who is the manager of the junior team, told Express on the sidelines of the opening day of the WSF World Junior Squash Championship here.
While the lack of money is taking a toll on all sports in Zimbabwe, the general attitude of youngsters towards taking up sports as a career is what is worrying Blessing more. For a nation that has produced athletes like Kirsty Coventry — a swimmer with seven Olympic medals to her name — this new trend is a shame. “Most of the kids play in schools because they get a lot of perks like good jackets and other accessories and they get to brag about the different countries they get to travel to with their friends. That’s why most youngsters play sports in Zimbabwe these days. To be honest, no one really takes it up as a profession. For most of them, it is a pathway to getting scholarships to study abroad. Another reason why they don’t choose it as a career is because there is very less money involved,” Blessing said.
But despite all the problems, Blessing and Co managed to come to India hoping to better their previous record at the World Juniors in Poland in 2016, where they finished second from last.“In Zimbabwe, squash is not that big. But we have to try. We have a good system in school now. And the kids here are keen on winning rather than making money. That’s a positive start,” he added.