Remember Julia Sakala? Samukeliso Moyo? How about Tendai Chimusasa?
Those who follow athletics can easily remember the days when the sport used to hog the limelight and capture international imagination.
Once the second most popular sport after football, athletics is slowly sinking into oblivion and only the National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe (NAAZ) president Tendai Tagara has the answers to this development and the way forward. The clear signs that the sport is decaying is the fact that hardly do local athletes get medals at platforms hosted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), while countries such as Botswana and South Africa are leaving lasting impressions.
South Africa in particular has been winning medals at the biggest stage and athletes such as Wayde Van Niekerk and Luvo Manyonga come to mind.
Manyonga is a South African track and field athlete who specialises in the long jump. He won the 2017 World Championship in London and the 2018 Commonwealth Games title in the Gold Coast, Australia. He was the Olympic silver medallist in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Niekerk is the current World and Olympic record holder, and world and Olympic champion. He also holds the world-best time in the 300 metres. For Zimbabwe, it is a pipe dream to send athletes to these events let alone win medals. Gone are the days of the Ngonidzashe Makusha and the Gabriel Mvumvures of this world who shook the world order although they could not win medals. Makusha represented Zimbabwe at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. In the long jump jump competition he secured a place in the final round with his first qualifying jump, which measured 8.14 metres.
In the final round his first jump measured 8.19 metres.
Mvumvure also put the country’s name on the world map when qualifying for 2016 Olympics and other competions under the auspices of the IAAF.
A simple calculation will show that out of the thousands of athletes in Zimbabwe, only four have the capacity to make it to the highest level and that should be a cause for concern in a country where there is an estimated 13 million people. While Zimbabwe normally sends just two athletes, neighbouring Botswana, with a population estimated at 3 million people, sends around 11 athletes with southern Africa giants South Africa shipping about 27 athletes such events.
The current administration led by Tagara in herited an organisation that had been run down by predecessor Joseph Mungwari who had clung to power for far too long. It is permissible to give the Tagara administration the benefit of doubt, but at the same time, Tagara and his fellow administrators must find lasting solutions in reviving the sport.
The first step towards resuscitating the sport must be the ability by the authorities tasked with running the sport to come up with a comprehensive blueprint that would take the once popular sports out of the abyss.
The blueprint should not delve much on finances, but broad clarification on how Naaz wishes to bring athletics out of the quagmire and elucidate on development, particularly how Naaz will make sure talent is harnessed from primary school age to tertiary level.
In the past there has been a smooth chain of talent identification up to the crucial tertiary education level that simply cascaded into the national system. That should come alive again. The national governing athletics body must ensure they station qualified coaches at all levels working closely with the National Association of Primary Heads (Naph) and the National Association of Secondary Heads (Nash).
The glory days which ushered greats like Artwell Mandaza, Sakala, Brian Dzingai, Chimusasa, Stephen Muzhingi and Samukeliso Moyo must be rewinded.
There are no clear cut structures countrywide while performance standards are tumbling. Gone are the days when there were the glamorous Chibuku National Championships, Dairibord National Championships or Mobil National Championships.