THE Covid-19 pandemic was a huge blow to sport, not only in Zimbabwe, but across the globe. Local and international events were affected, alike. Athletes were left stranded and some livelihoods were shattered. The global sports industry suffered huge losses from which it may never recover.
The situation this year was bad. But as we look into the future, it will be a great injustice, and a sad demonstration of leadership failure, not to have domestic sport back on the stage.
The coming year — 2021 — should signify new beginnings, so planning will be important. This is a year that will be highlighted with some important sports events for national associations and professional athletes.
There are teams and athletes that are chasing qualification for the Summer Olympics and the Paralympic Games to be held in Japan.
National football teams will be involved in the CAF AFCON and World Cup qualifiers while netball has lined-up Africa Cup qualifiers and Zimbabwe Cricket have ICC Women Cricket World Cup qualifiers on the calendar, just to name a few.
Many other associations and professional athletes will also be seized with trying to make an impression in regional and international events. So, taking the first steps will be crucial for success after months of complete standstill. Ever since the coronavirus started ravaging the sport industry at the beginning of the year, we have been waiting for the arrival of the most suitable time to start playing sport again. However, indications are that such a time may not come soon despite the progress that has been made in the field of medicine to find a vaccine.
In our case, we have been particularly blessed as a nation that the pandemic did not have as much impact as it had on many other countries around the world.
Some countries have already started bracing for the second and third wave of the deadly virus, yet our statistics have remained manageable.
The storm is not over yet, but there is a new normal in the way the world is now conducting its business. Sport, like any other industry, should adapt in order to survive.
Sports leaders would need to plan with that in mind. The Government has since put in place procedures and strict health guidelines for the resumption of all sports in 2021. It is still important to tread with caution.
The purpose of these guidelines is to ensure that there is minimum risk of spreading the virus. It is highly likely that local sport will return without fans. Thus club owners and sporting associations will have to rethink on how to get revenue to sustain themselves as well as inventing methods to cater for the fan experience, since fans are major stakeholders.
The capabilities of sports administrators will be put to the test. Indeed, local sport would need new and innovative ways to survive the new normal. Sponsorship deals have been lost in 2020 and the financial viability of organisations is under threat, especially with companies and potential sponsors shifting their focus to the fight against Covid-19.
A tip of the iceberg is when NetOne announced early this year that they were terminating their contract with Highlanders and CAPS United to channel more of their resources to the fight against Covid-19.
The Premiership football’s traditional sponsors Delta Corporation have also not committed themselves to renew their contract with domestic football since it expired at the end of 2019. No football was played this year and the effects were dire, especially to the players whose livelihoods depend on the profession.
The game was supposed to return this month under a bio-secure bubble, but it failed to take off after ZIFA and the Premier Soccer League could not secure partners to assist the funding of the concept.
That’s how dire it has been in that sector. Instead of the current boardroom fights taking place in the game, the leadership should take the time to start preparing for 2021. The league should be able to return and international fixtures have to be honoured.
The big question is how will the PSL clubs survive without gate-takings, which have traditionally been the main source of revenue, if the game returns without the fans? Training and match days will also come with extra costs to meet the Covid-19 health protocols. How are our athletes going to qualify for the Olympic Games and the World Championships? The National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe is fully aware of what is in their plate.
Recently they released a fully packed calendar for the year, with a number of provincial cross-country events scheduled for January in Harare, Manicaland and Bulawayo.
There are a number of international events coming up next year, including the World Cross-country Championships and World Indoor Championships in March.
These will be followed by the World Relays in May and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games scheduled for July 23 to August 8. A number of local athletes are still chasing qualification for the rescheduled Games.
Soon after that, the juniors have the World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, from August 17 to 22. The Zimbabwe Netball Association also have a busy year. The netball senior national team has the Pent Series in May in Namibia, which is crucial in terms of maintaining and improving their world rankings. This will be followed by the Africa Cup in June also scheduled for Namibia and an invitational tournament between August and September in Morocco, which is also important for rankings. For the Young Gems there is the Confederation of Southern Africa Netball Associations (COSANA) Championships in August.
In October, the regional body is scheduled to host the Club Championships while the Under-18s have the Region Five Games in December.
There are some workshops lined-up for national teams’ coaches to be held by COSANA.
On the local scene, the National Youth Games remain key on the netball calendar as it presents a platform for talent identification and scouting of players. Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, athletes should remain focused and dedicated to duty.
The leadership in sport will have a lot of work to do in the boardroom next year, brainstorming and strategising for 2021. If they had not begun, the time is now.
Budgets should be in place and programmes of events be made clear. There is no need to wait until the last minute to start preparing.