Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
THE 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Japan will be the biggest sporting event on the calendar this year and many Zimbabwean athletes will be on their toes in the first half of the year using the few remaining opportunities to qualify for the global event.
The sports scene holds a lot for Zimbabwe with the national football team, the Warrior, also involved in crucial qualifiers for the 2021 AFCON tournaments and the 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar.
The junior football teams for both the men’s and the women’s teams will also be involved in the World Cup qualifiers and other regional competitions.
And after 14 months of inactivity, the national cricket team the Chevrons will be back in action starting this month when they host Sri Lanka in a two-match series in the longer version of the game.
The men’s youth side are already in South Africa for the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup which begins in a fortnight.
But all the limelight will be on the Olympic Games in Japan from July 24 to August 9. The Olympic Games are the biggest sporting event on earth with 11 000 athletes from more than 200 countries expected this year to compete in 339 events across 33 sports.
Olympic Games alarm bells
So far rower, Peter Purcell-Gilpin, is the only Zimbabwean athlete that has made the grade at this year’s Olympics in the men’s Single Scull event.
This would be Purcell-Gilpin’s first Olympic Games and it follows his success at the African Olympic Qualification Regatta in Tunisia in October last year.
The 25-year-old came second in the men’s singles behind Egyptian Abdelkhalek Elbanna in a tight race. But there are still prospects in disciplines such as aquatics (swimming), archery, boxing, cycling, equestrian, golf, judo, rugby sevens, shooting and rowing, who are all still in the qualification process.
Otherwise, the country is likely to send a severely reduced team to the jamboree. At the last edition in Brazil, the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee fielded a team of 31 athletes, nine men and 22 women, to compete in seven different sports at the Games.
It was the nation’s largest ever delegation sent to the Olympics in a non-boycotting edition and the second-largest overall in history, a stark contrast to the seven athletes who attended the London Games four years earlier. The estimated team size this year is between five to 15 athletes.
Athletics usually gets good representation. Top female long-distance runner, Rutendo Nyahora, who made her maiden appearance at the Summer Games in 2016, is one prospect despite the tough qualification standards.
The qualifying time for women’s marathon has been set at 2hours 29minutes 30seconds. In 2016, it was 2hours 45minutes.
The men’s time moved from 2hours 19minutes to 2hours 11minutes 30seconds and there is still hope for the likes of Ngonidzashe Ncube, Munyaradzi Jari and Isaac Mpofu.
This time the senior women’s football team, the Mighty Warriors, who formed the biggest part of the delegation at the last Olympic Games, failed to qualify.
The sevens rugby team missed an opportunity to attain a slot at the African Qualification event held in South Africa in November but they will have a second attempt in the repechage event to be held in Europe in June 2020.
Busy schedule for ZIFA
Although no football team made the Olympics, ZIFA this year have a busy schedule from the Under-17 age-group to the senior teams for both men and women.
The national Under-17 and Under-20 girls are set to take part in the World Cup qualifiers which begin this month. The Under-17 team will get the ball rolling in a two-legged preliminary round qualifier against Botswana before the Under-20 side join the fray with a date against Malawi.
The men’s senior team will be the highlight of the year when they resume their World Cup campaign for the 2022 tournament set for Qatar. The Warriors return to the global event after missing the 2018 edition held in Russia because of a FIFA ban.
The draw for the groups games will be held in Egypt later this month.
The Warriors are also involved in the crucial AFCON qualifiers which began last year. They are currently second with four points in a group that also includes neighbours Zambia and Botswana and current African champions Algeria, who have six points after two rounds of play.
The locally-based Warriors are also set to feature at the finals of the CHAN tournament to be held in Cameroon in April. Later in the year, the Zimbabwean teams from the Under-17 age-groups to the senior teams, will be involved in the regional COSAFA tournament.
“It’s going to be a busy schedule,” said ZIFA spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela.
“But I believe we are prepared for it. That is why we have decided to enter all of our teams into the competitions. It’s also worthwhile to note that our girls will be taking part in the World Cup, unlike in the previous years.
“ZIFA places great value in ensuring that developmental teams participate in all matches that are provided by the world, continental and regional governing bodies. We call upon all stakeholders to take this great opportunity to partner the association in creating a lasting football legacy. Football world over is sustained by sound funding.”
Test cricket returns, bumper calendar for the Chevrons
Exactly 14 months after playing their last Test match, Zimbabwe are finally set to break the ice when they host Sri Lanka this month.
The Chevrons, who are the only Test playing-nation that did not feature in the longer format of the game last year, will play two Tests against the Islanders, in accordance with the International Cricket Council’s Future Tours Programme.
This will be Zimbabwe’s first major assignment following the recent lifting of a three-month ban by the ICC.
Test cricket is regarded as the ultimate game of cricket but, for the first time since 2011, there was no Test cricket within a calendar year for the Chevrons.
After hosting Sri Lanka, they have a tour of Bangladesh in March where they are earmarked to play one Test and five T20Is under the FTP.
The following month they host Ireland, again for one Test and five T20I games and then tour Australia for three ODIs in June.
They are then scheduled to host India in a three-match One Day International series in August and Netherlands the following month for three ODIs. A tour to Sri Lanka for three ODIs and two T20Is follow in October. However, Zimbabwe’s FTP schedule is yet to be confirmed.
The Under-19 side have already set the wheel in motion. The side, coached by Prosper Utseya, is in South Africa for the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup which runs from January 17 to February 9.
But the most disappointing part for ZC, will be the men’s and women’s teams missing from ICC World T20 for men and women in Australia.
Both teams failed to participate in the qualifiers last year after the association was suspended by ICC for alleged government interference. The ban only lasted three months but its consequences were dire.