By Eddie Chikamhi
Legendary swimmer Kirsty Coventry should not expect a smooth ride in her new portfolio in the Ministry of Sport, Youth, Arts and Recreation. Sport in Zimbabwe face complex challenges, including funding and corporate governance.
But, with new brooms in the office following the recent swearing in of Coventry, a major shift from the traditional way of doing things is expected.
Coventry, who comes from a rich sporting background, last week hit the ground running when she started engaging with the Sports Commission, ZIFA and Zimbabwe Cricket.
Her team, which includes her deputy Yeukai Simbanegavi, have scheduled more interactions this month with key stakeholders in the sport and arts industry to get an appreciation of the situation on the ground.
The big challenge the sector faces is funding and lack of corporate governance.
Many associations have found it difficult to employ full-time staff and have been run by volunteers who work part-time.
The new regime will come face-to-face with the reality that most of the associations are not run professionally while others do not even have physical offices from where to operate.
This has created a huge hole in the efforts to instil good corporate governance, in line with international standards.
Only four associations – ZIFA, Zimbabwe Cricket, Zimbabwe Rugby Union and National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe – have full-time staff and tick most of the boxes.
Sports Commission director of Business Development and Marketing, Daniel Kuwengwa, said governance was still a huge challenge.
“Most of the people in the offices are voluntary staff. They are not full-time and there are also questions about their administrative capacities.
“And where there are full-time officers, the challenge is they are still understaffed. There are a few people in key areas and some of them are in charge of two or three portfolios and this compromises corporate governance.
“Again, compliance with the requirements that ensure good corporate governance is a big challenge, not only in Zimbabwe but also across the continent.
“In some cases it’s not like the administrators don’t want to comply but they don’t appreciate why they should comply when they were used to doing things in a certain way.
‘’So education becomes important,” said Kuwengwa. Funding for sport has been a huge challenge and this has stifled development while athletes have also found it difficult to prepare and represent the nation in international events.
Sport was given a vote of $1.5 million from the national treasury against a bid of $36 million in the last budget and the sector struggled to bankroll events to meet its financial obligations.
The new leadership will need to put in place conditions that can draw the corporate world to complement the Government’s efforts to sponsor sport. “Sport doesn’t exist in isolation. The same challenges that are affecting all facets of our economy are also hitting hard on sport.
“Some big companies are even downsizing and you cannot expect them to put something aside to sponsor sport.
‘’For instance, it’s easy for corporates to sponsor sport when it comes with tax rebates. They look into those things.
“In the end, Zimbabwean sport is content accepting any type of sponsorship even if it’s worth two cents because you have nothing in the first place. “Sometimes you see those big banners at sport events but some of the deals can’t actually be classified as sponsorship. They are donations,” said Kuwengwa.
Coventry has been tipped to bring a meaningful turnaround because of her background as a successful Olympian.
In most instances sport has failed to rise above mediocrity because of lack of proper facilities.
Several sports facilities have been run down and this has made it difficult to develop grassroots talent and develop podium-performances at international events.
Facilities like the Magamba Hockey Stadium and the Aquatic Complex in Chitungwiza have become white elephants while community centres are neglected.
“The costs of maintaining some of the facilities are astronomical,” said Kuwengwa.
While efforts have been made to reach all corners of the country in search of talent, there is still a huge gap between the urban and rural folk.
The rural people usually don’t get the best facilities to develop their talent.
The lack of access to facilities and the cost of equipment has been a huge problem.
“Sport equipment is expensive for some sport codes. Even if a child is talented in tennis, cricket or hockey, sometimes it becomes very difficult to proceed because they cannot afford the racket or the hockey stick.
“But what we are saying is the more the child is in contact with a certain sport the more that child is likely to be turned into a star,” said Kuwengwa. The Herald