Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Eddie Cross on the Demise of Sports in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has a proud record of sporting prowess. Just after independence in 1980, we won a gold at the Olympics with our women's hockey team, we have the Black family in tennis where the two boys and Cara have excelled for many years - reaching the very top of the world tennis circuit. In motor racing we had John Love, we also had a world class motor cyclist, Ray Amm and of course our golfers - Nick Price etc.

My own son played field hockey for Zimbabwe after independence and although they did not enjoy the same fame as our "golden girls" they were world class - certainly in the top 10 countries. In swimming we were always up there and right now we have Kirsty Coventry doing her thing in the States, breaking world records and winning medals. Then came our cricket team. Our sporting fraternity is tiny - I doubt if we have more than a few hundred men playing cricket at any one time for local clubs. Yet somehow, we were able to put together a team that qualified for world-class test status - the second African State after South Africa to do so.

One of the reasons was my half brother, Bill Flower. Bill is a sports fanatic - he went to Cape Town University, played sport for a number of years, failed his degree programme and came home. He then spent the rest of his life in Zimbabwe pouring his passion for sport into his boys. Two of whom became the backbone of the Zimbabwe cricket squad - Andy and Grant. Both still play world-class cricket but no longer at home. Bill also now lives in Britain.

One of the problems with all these achievements has been that most of the star players were white Africans like me. Bill put a lot of effort into the development of cricket in Zimbabwe and players like Tabu came out of his stable. In fact Bill tutored a number of the most promising young black players when he lived here. The present World Junior golf champion is a wonderful young black Zimbabwean so we are slowly making progress in this area.

There is of course every reason why young Zimbabweans should go for sport as a gateway to the world. If you can play at a reasonable level it provides a good income these days and providing you do not ignore the need to get a decent education and some other experience it can also lay the foundation for a wonderful and fulfilling career. But for this to happen you have to have a platform. Either a family (like the Flowers, the Prices and the Blacks) who will believe in their children, pour themselves into that mould and make things possible for them to achieve what they have achieved in the world of sport. Or you need a nurturing and supportive industry that will see to it that promising young talent gets the training and the facilities to excel. This is what is happening in countries like Australia - their brilliant sporting record is no accident.

This past week has seen Zimbabwe withdraw from world-class test cricket or face expulsion. It is a tragedy and one that could have easily been avoided and instead turned into a great morale boosting championship saga that would have improved our status as a nation and help correct our very damaging reputation as a country. On a trip to the UK many years ago I was a guest at a small cocktail party in London as a commodity specialist. Talking to an elderly businessman from the City about Zimbabwe he mentioned to me how much he admired our record in the ICC championships - not knowing that I was related to the two Flower boys. He then went on to say, and I have never forgotten this comment "There is nothing wrong with a country that can play first class cricket."

He is so right and that is why Zimbabwean cricket with its bright stars, an excellent academy for young talent and a world class coaching system was an anomaly in this country. In all other respects we are a failed State. The spectacle of a world class team (India, Pakistan, England or Australia) playing in Zimbabwe on an immaculate green cricket field on a clear bright day was always a bit of a shock for those of us in food and fuel queues and watching the shambles that the rest of the economy was in.

The world system for cricket meant that we received ample funding for development, perks and pay for our professional players and a real platform for development of the game. Now all gone. The local thugs and thieves simply could not keep their hands off when it was apparent that there was money to be made and spent. The fact that the majority of the key actors were white, like commercial farming, simply made it an easy target, one stripped of any possibility of protection from violence and intimidation by the racist policies of Robert Mugabe and his crew. Never forgetting that he has been "patron" of Zimbabwe cricket for many years.

As for football - our national game, we have never got anywhere. Our team has failed and disappointed us at every turn and the main reason is not talent - we have plenty of that - just look at the players working in Clubs in Europe and South Africa, but simply a corrupt and incompetent national football administration. Again just too much money and power - the lights that attract the killer moths of Zanu PF to come in and destroy what potential there is in the game.

Sport, like culture and music, is an important part of national life. It plays a key role in maintaining a healthy population, creates employment and opportunity and can be a great foreign exchange earner. In addition there is no better way to promote a country than through its leading sports personalities and sporting achievements.

So sport becomes another casualty of this Zanu PF regime. This corrupt, power hungry minority who ride the Tiger and know they can never afford to get off. Lets hope their grip on the Tigers mane slips soon and they fall off and get eaten, Then at least we can start to put Zimbabwe back on the map with positive stories about the achievements of our people. Perhaps one day soon we will again be able to watch world-class sportsmen and women -some of them our own children - out there on our playing fields and in our swimming pools, competing to achieve the accolade that they are the best there is in the world. Not because they are black or white, but just because they are.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo 21st January 2006.

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