SPORT cheers the spirits of nations. It’s a role it has played for centuries since the first recorded ancient Olympic Games in 760 BC.
It unites nations, bringing us together as one people, bonded by our identity as citizens of particular countries, on the occasions that our national teams battle for glory on the international front.
Despite our political, ethnic or religious differences, we find ourselves coming together to cheer our national teams because they bring out the best that is in us as a nation.
When teams like the Warriors and the Chevrons do well, it brings out that amazing feeling of pride, among us as we celebrate what they would have achieved.
That’s why we have always found it as a source of pride that we are just one of the two African countries good enough to play Test cricket, the highest form of this game, in the world.
South Africa are the other African nation with Test status.
That there are only just 12 countries, including us, deemed good enough to play Test cricket has always given us some kind of bragging rights.
As our former captain, Heath Streak, correctly noted in this newspaper recently, some of our best moments in sport have come on the occasions our cricketers have done well at the ICC Cricket World Cup.
Like that unforgettable moment when, as newboys at our first World Cup in England, we found a way to beat one of the game’s traditional giants, Australia, in 1983.
We also tend to rally behind our sports stars, those who will be flying our national flag and writing success stories which project the image of our countries in good light.
That’s why we call Kirsty Coventry, our Golden Girl, because of what she achieved, representing this country, in the pools of the Olympics and the World Championships.
Even some of those fans, who did not follow swimming as a sport, suddenly found themselves being converted into dedicated fans as they cheered Coventry, who is now the country’s Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister, to success stories on the grand stages of competitions around the world.
“Athletes are role models in society.
“Kids listen to what athletes say more than they listen to their parents; that’s a reality,” two-time National Basketball Association champion Paul Gasol.
“Let’s utilise that in a time of need, like this one, in order to send the right message, in order to do the right thing, in order to unite and bring the best out of people in a time of uncertainty and adversity. That’s a chance we have right now.
“Instead of looking out for our own or pointing fingers or criticising or being more separate than we were, it’s a time we can really come together. It’s an opportunity. I hope we don’t waste it.”
He couldn’t have said it any better.
That is why, across the world, leaders are finding ways to try and bring sport — which has largely been frozen since the COVID-19 pandemic spilled around the globe between February and March — back on the radar.
Last weekend, we saw the German Bundesliga become the world’s first major football league to return to action with many matches being played across that country.
Of course, given that Covid-19 hasn’t been defeated yet, and continues to devour lives across the world, including in Germany, strict measures had to be effected to ensure that the football stadia are not converted, once again, into giant breeding grounds for this virus.
The fans were barred from the stadiums while both the officials, and the players, had to be tested and also observe some strict measures effected by the authorities.
The return of the Bundesliga also coincided with President Mnangagwa giving the green light for officials in charge of some of the local sporting disciplines, which are not considered to be high-risk, to resume their programmes.
However, those sporting disciplines — like archery, tennis and cricket — can be played under strict measures prescribed by the Government.
This underlines the importance of sport, even in times of crisis, because it’s something that cheers our spirits and, more importantly, it also shows that we haven’t surrendered, as a nation, in our fight to try and conquer the threat posed by COVID-19.
That message of hope is important because it shows that while this virus has changed our ways of life, we cannot give up the fight to defeat it, and images of our sportspersons, back in action while observing strict measures like social distancing, are important to boost national morale.
We are not the only ones fighting back and using sport to show that we haven’t surrendered this fight to tame this virus.
This week, players who ply their trade in the English Premiership, the league which has the biggest global television following, returned to training for the first time since March.
We have also seen players in the Spanish La Liga, superstars like Lionel Messi, and those who ply their trade in the Italian Serie A, like Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, also coming back to training this week.
These are all important messages from the world to use sport, because of its sheer power to lift the spirits of the people, to show that — even in these darkest hours — we haven’t surrendered to this deadly virus.