PRESIDENT Mnangagwa’s decision to appoint the country’s most decorated Olympian, Kirsty Coventry, as the new Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister has received widespread support as a masterstroke.
The 35-year-old is a celebrated achiever who defied the odds in her sport as a swimmer, and took on the world to become one of the greatest swimmers of all time as she conquered the Olympics and the World Championships while also setting a number of world records.
After retirement from the sport, she moved into the boardrooms where she has distinguished herself as a very capable leader, first as a representative of the world’s elite athletes and as a member of the Evaluation Commission for the 4th Summer Youth Olympic Games to be held in Africa in 2022.
The Evaluation Commission’s members will be responsible for assisting and guiding the selection process to elect the African host of the 2022 Summer Youth Olympic Games.
On that elite panel, announced by IOC president Thomas Bach, Coventry rubs shoulders with some of the most prominent figures in world sport, including IOC vice-president Ugur Erdener, who is from Turkey; Beatrice Allen of The Gambia; Chile’s Neven Ilic; Gunila Lindberg of Sweden; China’s Li Lingwei; Lydia Nsekera of Burundi and Papua New Guinea’s Auvita Rapilla.
It’s a measure of Coventry’s pedigree that she has been receiving such high-level appointments in world sport and it’s refreshing that President Mnangagwa decided it was time that this country tapped, and benefited, from the wealth of wisdom which this iconic athlete has gathered over the years.
Of course, while we welcome and celebrate Coventry’s appointment to serve in our Government, we are not blind to the reality of the challenges which she will have to confront, and the hurdles she will have to clear, for her assignment in this key portfolio to be a success story.
We have a lot of challenges in our sport, given that we have generally punched below our weight, and success stories – which are critical in nation building in brightening the mood of our citizens – have been few and far between.
The big constituencies – football and cricket – could have done better in terms of delivering success stories for this country and only this year we all saw the disappointment that enveloped this nation when the Chevrons self-destructed against minnows United Arab Emirates and failed to qualify for next year’s ICC Cricket World Cup.
We believe that Coventry should set the tempo, using her vast experience gained in the corridors of international organisations like the IOC, to ensure that a conducive environment is created so that such massive setbacks should never be part of our national teams in the future.
Of course, we are charmed by the way the Zimbabwe Cricket authorities found a way to come up with a package that won the backing of the ICC and ensured financial support, critical for the existence of the game and the watering of its development programmes, would continue to be pumped into the sport.
But, beyond all that, what the country desperately wants is a cricket national team that justifies its place as one of the elite Test- playing nations in the world, which wins matches and, which doesn’t only qualify but do very well at international tournaments, like the World Cup.
The days of boardroom battles between players and administrators, which ends up robbing the team of some of its finest talents because of protests over pay and related things, should be a thing of the past in the new dispensation.
Football is our main sport and it has to lead the way, in terms of good performances, on the international stage and those who are in charge of this sporting discipline should know that they carry a massive national responsibility to deliver all the time.
A way has to be found to deal with the massive debt, which has been crippling the game’s operations, and ensuring that very little is being spent in development.
Without investment in the critical areas of development, our football will not be able to produce the next generation of stars to replace the likes of Khama Billiat, Knowledge Musona and Costa Nhamoinesu when the time comes for them to wave goodbye to their service to their motherland.
That is why we believe it is crucial that Coventry and our football leaders find each other so that the issue of the debt, estimated to be over $7 million, is dealt with once and for all and the game gets the freedom it badly requires to function without this crippling overhead.
Coventry will also have to ensure that the so-called minority sports, which have given this country more medals on the international scene than football and cricket, are given as much attention as possible and those who are running them are not just doing so, as a pastime, but to deliver a dividend which this nation can be proud of.
It’s not going to be an easy journey for Coventry but, then, she has never had it easy and, again and again, she has defied the odds.