Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter
FOR the Zimbabwe senior netball team, theirs has been a long and challenging journey but their perseverance has kept them going and now their dream is closer to being fulfilled with preparations for their debut appearance at the Netball World Cup taking shape.
The Gems will lift the country’s flag high when they take part in the Vitality Netball World Cup from July 12 to 21 in Liverpool, England.
This is Zimbabwe’s first appearance at the world show-piece.
The team is now in its final phase of preparations and on Thursday night various stakeholders came together for a send-off dinner in Harare for the team that also saw pledges being made to make it possible for the national side to represent the country in Liverpool.
The dinner was graced by the First Lady, who urged the nation to rally behind the team.
She gave the team US$15 000.
Several stakeholders also weighed in with various pledges to the team including the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development that pledged$20 000 (in local currency).
Zimplats pledged $25 000 and Tanganda Tea Company $6 500.
A signed netball by the First Lady was auctioned to the tune of $6 500 to Zimbabwe Tourism Authority acting chief executive Rita Likukuma.
The Zimbabwe Netball Association president Leticia Chipandu saluted the various corporates, organisations and individuals that have contributed in assisting the team ahead of their departure for England early next month.
“We are very grateful for all the support that we have got so far especially from our Government which enabled us to do the preparations (and) from the different corporates… There are quite a number of them, some came in a big way, some came in small ways but all the same these efforts added up and enabled us to camp and prepare for the games,” said Chipandu.
On Wednesday the netball team received $222 500 from Econet and $200 000 from Cassava Smartech, which was a major contribution to the side that has previoulsy struggled to attract sponsors.
Zimbabwe’s first game in Group A is against Sri Lanka on July 12. They will then face Australia the following day and the final Group game is against Northern Ireland on July 14. Chipandu said they are not going to Liverpool to just add numbers but they are on a mission and will not be intimidated.
“We are not going there to just play, we are going to compete. We are in the pool where we also find Australia which happens to be the world champions but we are not scared, we will take them on.
“We are also in the same pool with Sri Lanka, they are very tall but we will play it very low and give them a torrid time. We are going to play against Northern Ireland, let me assure this house we are not going to be just knocked out in the first round, we will advance to the second stage, the third stage up to the end,” said Chipandu.
Chipandu said they are also still negotiating with some potential sponsors.
Acting Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, Joram Gumbo, said the Gems’ participation at the World Cup is a milestone for the entire nation.
“The qualification by the Zimbabwe senior netball team is not only a great milestone in the sport of netball but for the entire country as it resonates with the vision of making Zimbabwe an active, empowered and excelling nation.
“This also fits well with the podium performance programme which the Ministry is currently pursuing. Being competitive as a nation also demands that we are in sync with the rest of the world,” said Gumbo.
The Gems are in their final camp for the tournament and coach Lloyd Makunde says they are impressed with the progress being made by the team.