African Games a platform for learning Eltah Nengomasha

Ellina Mhlanga-Senior Sports Reporter

JUST over a week after the 13th African Games, Team Zimbabwe chef de mission Eltah Nengomasha says there were important lessons learnt that they can build on going forward. 

Zimbabwe, competing in athletics, chess, cricket, cycling, judo, karate, rugby, swimming, tennis, and triathlon got 11 medals — three gold, four silver, and four bronze. 

The 13th edition of the Games was initially scheduled for last year in August but was moved to this year. 

“Lesson learnt for us as Zimbabwe is we now need to be very deliberate about prioritisation of sports. And my Minister (Kirsty Coventry) has hinted at this issue and will fully unveil this aspect shortly, where we will prioritise our sports. 

“The second important lesson is we start the preparations now. We don’t wait until the next four years, in 2027 to pick a team.

“So what’s important is for us to start working with specific programmes for individual athletes and sports codes. Programmes that improve their conversions from qualifying to the podium. 

“So this is the work that we will sit down with my team. We sit down under the guidance of the Ministry (of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture) and say what programmes are we rolling out now, the programme that will feed not only into the African Games but other global, world competitions, even our Olympics. 

“And not just Paris because Paris is already around the corner but the next Olympics. So we need to start now,” said Nengomasha, who is the Sports and Recreation Commission director-general. 

With Zimbabwe winning 11 medals at the postponed 2023 Games, there was a notable improvement from the 2019 edition where Zimbabwe got four medals – one silver and three bronze from swimming, triathlon, and chess. 

This time around, cricket, rugby, swimming, athletics, and tennis managed to win some medals. 

Nengomasha believes they managed to achieve their targeted goals, as they considered podium performance, improvement of rankings, and development during team selection. 

“Participating at the Games brings perspective to us as a country. Remember our strategy was on three pillars. 

“The first one is podium performance, which we have achieved by 11 medals. A considerable improvement in performance compared to the previous edition. 

“Ranking, we went there and we said, we want to improve our ranking as a country, at athlete level, individual level as well as a country. And we have jumped from 31 previously to 18. 

“Athletes, I have athletes in cycling, Skye (Davidson) that was ranked fourth. I have athletes in swimming who didn’t get the podium performance but again they improved their ranking, like Paige (Van Der Westhuizen).

“I have athletes that also managed to get competition time for development like triathlon.” 

Nengomasha, said they are grateful to the government and various stakeholders for the support that made it possible for the team to compete in Accra, Ghana. 

Deputy Chef de Mission (technical) Tendayi Tagara said there is a need to invest in sports and ensure athletes and teams are adequately prepared if they are to be competitive.

“The performance was encouraging.

“Our role as a country is to set the foundation, the environment for them (athletes) to perform at the highest level. And that has to be budgeted for. 

“Don’t give us money when we are about to go, it’s not necessary, give us money to prepare a team. 

“Cricket was well prepared because of their very good financial background. Rugby was well prepared because of their ranking, and what they have been doing. 

“Look at the performers, most of them are on scholarships…On its own, you can statistically analyse who can be on the podium.

“You don’t just work up on a podium, you must prepare, you must invest,” said Tagara.

Tagara believes with some of the disciplines being part of Team Zimbabwe mainly for development purposes, they are laying a strong foundation for the future. 

“I was impressed by the triathlon men’s team. It’s a very young team. Those who go for the next edition must accept that the foundation for triathlon men was set in 2024. They are still very young. 

“So it means those who go to the next edition must then start to knock for a medal.”

The triathlon team included 15-year-olds Callum Smith and Rohnan Nicholson, who competed in the elite men.

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