Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa yesterday said the Government is committed to investing more in sports infrastructure and also assisting athletes to achieve podium performances on the international fora.
Speaking during the National Youth Day Celebrations held at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe Square in Harare, President Mnangagwa acknowledged the domestic sports industry was saddled with a number of challenges, chief among them the unavailability and lack of proper maintenance of the sports and recreation infrastructure.
He also threw a punch at corrupt sports administrators, and singled out football, which is the country’s most popular sport, to desist from poor practices.
President Mnangagwa said the Government has set aside resources to boost the sector, which has apparently performed below expectation in international competitions.
“The overall performances of our national sporting teams have revealed the glaring gaps and shortcomings of the sector.
“My Government has thus put in place resources for improving the sporting sector in terms of infrastructure, corporate governance, junior policy development, the mindset and empowerment of sports-persons,” said the President .
While taking a brief diversion from his prepared speech, the President warned corrupt leaders in the sports industry and spoke vehemently against poor governance; lack of transparency and accountability, all of which have hampered development across the board.
On the same note, the President also took a slight dig at the suspended ZIFA board led by Felton Kamambo, which is currently under the spotlight for professional misconduct and other malpractices.
ZIFA have been the problem child of Zimbabwean sports for many years and the Sports and Recreation Commission was forced to invoke Section 30 of the SRC Act last November, when they announced the suspension of the football leadership, following the reluctance by the ZIFA board to cooperate with the authorities over allegations of misuse of public funds and the sexual abuse of female referees, among other vices.
“All these things that have been happening in sport all along; the stealing in football and other sports should come to an end.
“We would want our talented children in the sports sector to work hard and succeed in their fields of specialty without being short-changed by these thieves,” said President Mnangagwa.
“Meanwhile, I applaud our young people in sports for their participation and spirited showing at regional and continental competitions, notably the Tokyo Olympics and the Paralympic Games as well as the Maseru Youth Games held in Lesotho.”
Zimbabwe had a smaller delegation at the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Japan where golfer Scott Vincent was the bright light for Zimbabwe on his debut appearance, despite returning home without a medal.
But Team Zimbabwe won 49 medals at the AUSC Region 5 Games that were held in Maseru, Lesotho, in December last year.
President Mnangagwa reiterated that the upgrading and maintenance of sports and recreation infrastructure was a key agenda under his administration.
Infrastructure plays a key role in developing top class athletes who bring home medals.
Recreation centres in various communities, where the youth engage in different sport, arts and cultural activities in their spare time, have for long helped divert young people from the temptations of partaking in social vices and drug abuse.
Unfortunately, most of these facilities around the country have been in deterioration over the years due to lack of maintenance by the local authorities. Some facilities have been turned into white elephants while others have been invaded by land barons who have turned these important places into illegal residential stands.
The call by President Mnangagwa to provide the youth with the recreation centres bodes well with this year’s theme “Alleviating substance and drug abuse by the youth”.
He said the Government will continue to link up synergies with various stakeholders to make sure that some of the run-down facilities are brought back to life.
He applauded the efforts by Presidential Envoy and Ambassador-at-Large to the Americas and Europe, Prophet Uebert Angel, who has pledged to refurbish the dilapidated Gwanzura Stadium in Harare’s high-density suburb of Highfield. The works have already started at the Highfield facility, which used to host domestic Premiership and international matches, as well as musical galas, before it was neglected by the responsible authorities.
“My Government will continue to collaborate with various stakeholders towards upgrading, repairing and maintaining our sporting and recreational facilities in order to nurture talent while at the same time reducing drug and substance abuse among the youth.
“The Presidential Fund, the Mnangagwa Fund, we are already upgrading Gwanzura. For you the Harare people, we are going to upgrade Gwanzura to another level of splendour and you will use the stadium for your benefit and we will go around all the cities upgrading all the sports and recreation facilities.
“I call upon local authorities throughout the country to ensure that land is reserved for recreation facilities for our young people and that sporting and recreation facilities in our various communities are properly maintained.
“The concept of local community development officers must be re-introduced at local authority level,” said President Mnangagwa.