THE Zimbabwe Gems’ triumphant start to their inaugural World Cup adventure in Liverpool, Britain, yesterday, following a comprehensive win over Sri Lanka, gave the nation something to cheer its spirits.
There was a swagger to the Gems’ performance as the team played with both style and passion and were deserved winners of their first game at the global netball showcase.
Some will dismiss this victory as something that was expected, because we were playing Sri Lanka, who are the lowest-ranked side at the tournament.
But, as shown by the shock results at the on-going AFCON football tournament, where heavyweights like Morocco, defending champions Cameroon and record winners Egypt failed to qualify beyond the Round of 16, nothing can be taken for granted in major sporting tournaments anymore.
Traditional lightweights like Madagascar, making their first appearance at the Nations Cup finals, and Benin — who arrived in Egypt without a win in their previous three appearances at the tournament — showed that the so-called minnows can now flex their muscles with devastating consequences.
Madagascar, the Indian Ocean islanders, beat the Super Eagles of Nigeria to top their group at the AFCON finals, knocked out two-time champions DRC in the Round of 16 and their dream campaign only came to an end when they were beaten 0-3 by Tunisia in the quarter-finals on Thursday night.
There is always a possibility that a lightweight can go on a good run, at such major tournaments, and that is why those who will dismiss Zimbabwe’s win over Sri Lanka yesterday as a non-event are wrong because, as we have seen again and again, anything can happen at such major events.
After all, Sri Lanka have played at this World Cup before while the Gems are making their maiden appearance and did not know the landscape that they were stepping onto, yesterday, and that they managed to turn on the style, as quickly as they did, was very impressive.
We acknowledge that tougher tests for the Gems will come, in their following assignments, but that should not stop us from enjoying what they did yesterday because, for the first time in the history of this country, we bore witness to a group of players, representing our nation, winning a match at the Netball World Cup.
But, more than the result itself, what really mattered yesterday was the outpouring of support, from the fans who transformed the arena into a sea of our national colours, as they cheered every goal scored by the Gems.
For us, what was important here was that the world saw how the people of this country are very proud of their identity as Zimbabweans, irrespective of the challenges that confront us at the moment as our political leaders continue with the tough job of leading us from the abyss, where we had sunk in the past, and into a period of sustained success and good standards of lives for the people.
Now, and again, we have read some grim stories, in the international media, about our country, the majority of the articles twisted to inflict as much harm as possible and to create the impression that this country was falling to pieces.
We can’t force them to change their narrative, because that’s what they are, a people who will always try their best to degrade us and send a signal that we are collapsing and everything will be in ruins now. We have lived with such coordinated attacks, for the last 20 years, and we have seen some of our colleagues, lured by dirty money and a shameless quest to be the main political actors in this country, no matter how much this could cost this nation, giving such people a helping hand.
But, as the events in Liverpool showed yesterday, we remain very proud of whom we are — that we are Zimbabweans and we don’t wish to be citizens of any nation.
And, we are glad, even the international media noted that.
“No one made as much noise as the Zimbabwean fans who took over court two at lunchtime with their flags, their families and their joyful presence,’’ British daily newspaper, The Guardian, reported yesterday.
“Zimbabwe’s team — and their passionate fans — had plenty of reason to be delighted even before a ball was thrown. The Gems had to launch a crowd-funding campaign just to be able to afford to attend this World Cup, having qualified as runners-up of last year’s African Netball Championship.
“Their opening game felt like a celebration party; fans with drums and dance moves and outrageously tight harmonies cheered the very first goal as if it were the match winner, and from then on the decibel level inside the stadium never dropped lower than 110.
“The Zimbabwe game suggested this tournament will barely need the extra trimmings. When Australia’s match against Northern Ireland finished, their respective fans immediately shuffled over to the edges of court one to get a taste, however brief, of the magic happening next door.
“The Zimbabwean players leapt up to the stands at the end of their win to high-five their new friends. The captain, Perpetua Siyachitema, was so overwhelmed by the support she had a little cry. If this atmosphere keeps on going, Liverpool is in for a big week indeed.’’
Watching it all unfold, and after the pain inflicted by the Warriors’ poor show at the AFCON finals, made all of us feel proud to be Zimbabweans and may the party continue.