As the national senior men soccer team, the Warriors, go into battle at the Africa Cup of Nations 2019 finals in a few days, let us spare a thought for the Mighty Warriors, the national senior women’s soccer team.
Only a few years ago, the Zimbabwe senior women’s soccer team had the whole nation on their feet as they carried the country’s flag with distinction beyond the country’s borders.
The team, also known as the Mighty Warriors, represented the nation well in regional and international competitions.
At most, they gave confidence to a people that had their hopes severely battered in football — one of the most passionate mass sport in Zimbabwe — because of the perennial failure by their male counterparts.
They were the first football team to make it to a global event after qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Previously, Zimbabwe had qualified for the women’s version of the Africa Cup of Nations three times and their best performance was a fourth place finish at the 2000 edition held in Nigeria.
After the “Golden Generation” of Nomsa “Boyz” Moyo, Sitheleliwe “Kwinji 15” Sibanda and Precious “Gringo” Mpala retired, women’s football went into stagnation, with no active football to talk about from around 2005 until 2010.
But the team managed to craft their way back and reached dizzy heights when they went for a training camp in Germany in 2011, the same year they won the COSAFA Cup at Rufaro, after beating regional powerhouse Banyana Banyana of South Africa, for the first time in a competitive match.
The team was honoured by the Government with each member receiving US$5 000. Because of their growing brand they managed to secure international friendly matches with Uruguay and Egypt and became Banyana Banyana’s strong training partners.
Their growth has been phenomenal and that is the reason why they received a CAF recognition of CAF Team of the Year in 2015 and 2016, while their striker Rutendo Makore was also nominated among the best strikers on the continent.
The Mighty Warriors, could only be compared to South Africa’s Banyana Banyana in the region. But it pains to see their counterparts, South Africa, who they were at one point almost at the same level with, participating at the FIFA World Cup underway in France.
What really went wrong with the Mighty Warriors?
They are the missing link in the 2019 positive stories as their men’s counterparts prepare for the upcoming AFCON tournament in Egypt, while the senior netball team are set for a maiden Netball World Cup appearance in England next month.
There is also positive news with the women’s cricket team which recently won the ICC Africa tournament at home to get a berth at the World Cup Global qualifier.
The Mighty Warriors, in comparison, have all been dormant this year. They even failed to qualify for last year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana.
During those finals in Accra, South Africa for the first time reached the finals to book a ticket to the ongoing FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Ever since they returned from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it seems the Mighty Warriors’ stock has been on the decline.
They only participated in the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon in November 2016, to cap one of the best years in terms of tournament participation.
It’s difficult to comprehend that a team crowned Team of the Year at the National Sports Awards only two years ago, suddenly vanishes from the scene.
During the era when ZIFA navigated through a leadership crisis, the Mighty Warriors represented the highest level of organisation in local football despite the lack of support from the parent association.
It was sad their efforts were not complemented. Truthfully, ZIFA and the nation at large let the Mighty Warriors down.
Government, during the old dispensation, and corporate world were equally complicit as they never come out fully in support of the women’s team, the same way they did with the men.
The lesson that the nation is still to learn is that the Mighty Warriors are as important as the men’s senior team because when they do well on the international front, it is the name of the country that everyone talks about and when they are down we all should be concerned.
Their harrowing tales in preparing for major tournaments as the Olympics are well documented.
The girls struggled to get decent accommodation, meals and training facilities, among other core provisions. Almost every time they had to scuffle with ZIFA to get their daily allowances, which amounted to a pittance.
They never had the luxury of camping in first-rate facilities such as Walter Magaya’s Yadah Complex Hotel, where their male counterparts found all the comfort to help them make it in the last two AFCON campaigns.
Despite their marked successes, the girls still had to grapple with empty promises from the authorities at ZIFA.
It made very sad reading when the players were each given a paltry $5 bus fare by then ZIFA authorities to find their way back to their different bases on their return from the Olympics.
To make the matters worse, the players are still to get the residential stands they were promised after qualifying for the 2016 Olympics.
But 2019 should be a good year on Zimbabwe’s sporting scene.
The nation should unite solidly behind the Warriors in Egypt, the netball Gems in England and the Lady Chevrons of cricket as they intensify their quest for next year’s World Cup.
At the same time, let’s all spare a thought for the Mighty Warriors! They are the missing link.