Editorial Comment: Fans go where they get value for their money WHAT A SIGHT TO SEE . . . Around 10 000 Zimbabwean cricket fans join together in song and dance during the third and final T20I match between the Chevrons and Ireland at a packed Harare Sports Club — Photo: Zimbabwe Cricket

Huge crowds that have thronged Zimbabwe national cricket team games at Harare Sports Club have given other sport codes, especially football, a wake-up call.

The Chevrons are attracting almost a capacity crowd each time they host an international game, whether at Harare Sports Club or Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.

This has been happening for the past few years and it appears the numbers keep getting high with each passing home series.

The six-match white ball series being played in Harare between Zimbabwe and Ireland is another good example of how sport can be such an exciting and unifying force.

All the three T20I matches had good crowds.

A bigger and more electric atmosphere saturated the arena during the T20I series decider last Sunday, with Zimbabwe claiming a 2-1 win in front of a vociferous crowd.

Harare Sports Club was almost full to capacity, with an estimated 10 000 fans turning up for the decisive encounter.

Most of those that came late had to endure the frustrations of standing in long queues while parking space ran out inside the venue, forcing motorists to find alternative parking in the streets adjacent to the ground.

And then, the ODI series is also promising to draw more fans to the arena today as the teams face-off in the second of the three-match series.

The first game, despite taking place during midweek, had a decent audience on Wednesday. Some people had to sacrifice their midweek routines just to be at Harare Sports Club, with rains threatening. Talk of loyalty!

And the fans that braved the downpour that resulted in an hour-long delay on Wednesday were treated to some highly entertaining stuff as the Chevrons fought back late on and turned the script around with some power hits to claim a three-wicket win over Ireland.

This is the stuff that fans want: Value for money!

Credit to both teams for putting up some entertaining acts. The cricket matches between Zimbabwe and Ireland have most of the time turned out to be nail-biting contests and the win-lose records demonstrate how close the two rivals are.

But not only against Ireland; the Chevrons have always had a loyal fan base. But with fortunes on the field having taken an upward trajectory again in the last eight months, the passion has also increased among local cricket fans.

Back in 2018, Zimbabwe played in front of capacity crowds during the ICC World Cup Qualifier they hosted. The feat was repeated last year during the ICC T20 World Cup qualifiers in Bulawayo where multitudes packed the Queens Sports Club to help Zimbabwe complete a clean sweep and punch their ticket back to the ICC T20 World Cup, for the first time in six years.

The trend continued when the Chevrons hosted Bangladesh last August, winning both the ODI and T20I series. Even at the ICC T20 World Cup finals in Australia, Zimbabwe were among the best supported teams as the diaspora fans also could not resist the urge to spur the team on.

It just goes to show how Zimbabweans have fallen deeply in love with cricket. Probably it’s because the Chevrons have been given the enduring Zimbabwean sports fans something to always look forward to on the international stage.

Of late, it could be the positivity brought by the arrival of Zimbabwe legend Dave Houghton on his second stint as head coach of the Chevrons.

Houghton has always emphasised a positive and entertaining brand of cricket and this has helped unlock the potential in many of the national team players as they have been given the license to freely express themselves.

But you cannot take away from Zimbabwe Cricket the sound management that has characterised the running of the game.  

The cricket fan numbers cheering for the Chevrons are a fantastic reminder for sports such as football that fans go to where there is entertainment value.

Football has been affected by poor attendance in recent years. Many theories have been brought forward to try and explain the plummeting numbers at football stadiums.

But what has been witnessed at Harare Sports Club and Queens Sports Club shows that it is not about the gate charges since the fares are almost the same.

It is not about Covid-19 since all sports were affected by the pandemic. It is not about the English Premier Soccer League being a counter-attraction to the domestic Premier Soccer League.

It is not about the location of the venue.

The truth is that fans want value for their money. They want to see competitive sports. They want to see committed leadership, free of corruption and petty politics.

But the way football has been running over the years in this country is enough to put off even the most steadfast supporters of the game.

The quality of the game has also gone down drastically. Fans cannot waste their money on poor quality products and no well-meaning sponsors would want to associate with such.

In fact, the reason many Zimbabweans had migrated to better leagues such as the English Premier League could have been because of the poor grade football they have been subjected to in the local league week in and week out.

Cricket, as a brand, has always been up there among the Zimbabwean sports and the Chevrons are doing well to give the football constituency time to reflect and mend their ways.

The onus is also on ZIFA and the local clubs to plan for and start developing good quality players. It’s sad, though, that junior development is not being taken seriously.

In the meantime, cricket continues to show the way. Sport is always complete with fans. The same crowds that are being witnessed at Harare Sports Club and Queens Sports Club should be seen in football, rugby, athletics, you name it.

Zimbabweans love sport, but somehow they are being let down.

The onus is on people in leadership positions and the athletes themselves to roll up their sleeves and help turn the tide.

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