Ellina Mhlanga, Sports Reporter
OVER the years, local sports clubs have played an invaluable role in professional athletes’ development as well as for community recreation.
They remain key for Zimbabwean sport especially at a time the country is riddled with an acute shortage of ideal sporting facilities.
However, a survey to assess their vibrancy in the prevailing tough economy revealed mixed feelings.
The ever-declining membership as well as ready takers is a cause for concern across these clubs.
Most of the clubs have tennis courts, bowling fields, squash courts, cricket fields, rugby fields, football grounds and gym facilities.
Sports clubs such as Harare Sports Club have become home to international tennis, cricket and rugby among the different sport codes they host while the likes of Alexandra Sports Club also host football and chess games.
Old Hararians, who used to be the home of tennis and field hockey, also have a swimming pool while Highlands Sports Club have some of the well manicured bowling fields apart from the tennis courts and squash courts just to mention but a few.
Alexandra Sports Club’s acting manager, Chrispen Ziko, said they have seen a sharp decrease in numbers with some of their members in the various sporting sections withdrawing their membership while others are struggling to pay their membership fees although they have continued to use the facilities.
He revealed that most of their sporting sections were no longer vibrant as they used to be.
“We have members that are failing to even pay their subscriptions. Like the bowls section they have withdrawn their membership. We are no longer together with our bowls members. We have squash it’s kind of a dead section, we no longer have people who come here to play squash.
“And in tennis we have coaches, we are only surviving on those coaches, there are no adults coming to play tennis. We only have a few customers who come to play tennis, mostly kids, adults can’t afford to come and play tennis.
“It’s the same with the cricket section, members of the Indian community used to sponsor themselves and they used to maintain that ground but now it’s hard, they can’t even cut the grass, we are the ones sponsoring them. So it’s hard on our part, they can’t pay subscriptions.
“Then this chess section, it’s next to a dead section they play on Saturdays we only see a few kids maybe four or five but we used to have a big turnout,” said Ziko.
Ziko attributed the current situation to the obtaining tough economic environment and said with bills to pay, they have had to pass it on to their members just to keep afloat but it’s proving to be difficult and costly as they continue to lose membership.
“I can just say the economic hardships because on our part we are mainly affected by ZESA because we water these grounds, maybe almost all-year-round. Now it’s rainy season and we don’t have the rains we have to water those grounds and the electricity bill is unrealistic.
“So to kind of sustain whatever is going on we increase the membership charges on those who use our facilities like on day membership it means we have to turn up a bit those prices so that we survive. But in the due course we are losing customers,” Ziko said.
They have also turned a section of their sports club into a car sale for the purposes of generating revenues that can keep them going since they do not have sponsors or partnership like other clubs that have engaged corporates to sustain themselves.
“So the economic hardships are killing the sports department. Moreover we don’t have any sponsorship.
“We had to turn some of our tennis courts and the place we had reserved for basketball courts into car sales because we can’t sponsor ourselves, you can’t maintain a basketball court and you can’t maintain those tennis courts. It’s too expensive to maintain a tennis court considering the revenue you get from that tennis side,” said Ziko.
An official from one of the sports clubs said without any partnerships with the corporates or sponsorship it has become difficult.
“Particularly for this facility of ours it has been very difficult but my committee worked very hard to come up with a very favourable sponsorship that helps a lot. Corporate sponsorship that’s what keeps us breathing.
“But besides we also hold different events that we use for raising money, we get most of our income from selling space. So events keeps us going. But mostly it’s the corporate sponsorship that we have and I strongly believe in these times if you don’t have such kind of sponsorship it’s difficult. It makes a huge different,” said the official, who asked not to be named.
The same official said with sports clubs key to recreational activities and development of sport, there is need for responsible authorities to give a helping hand in reviving the facilities in particular those that have dilapidated.
However, some of them such as Harare Sports Club have continued to host major events over the years including Davis Cup ties for tennis.
“This country is endowed with these kind of facilities, dotted around the country. I would like and wish authorities to help these facilities be revived.
“I strongly believe the ministry which is responsible or the Government so as to speak should re-look into these facilities because without these facilities we won’t be able to produce the stars that we have been talking about. This is where the sports stars come from,” said the same official.
Some of the sports club house academies for different sport disciplines because of the readily available facilities on offer.
Highlands Sports Club manager Rene Walters said they have managed to sustain their numbers although there is room to attract more.
“I think it all depends on people that’s the only thing it depends on, people, if they like the sports we have got. I mean we have had new guys come in for a month, play squash, pay their subscription fees.
“We are getting there but I mean people are also struggling because it’s beginning of the year. I mean money is tight at the moment. But we have been doing well.
“We have got a very good squash and tennis section. We have had the US Embassy coming and having a tournament. We have had bowls section they have been in Australia,” said Walters.
As the country continues to seek better fortunes in the sport, hopes will be that these sports clubs are also not left out as they remain an important part for the sector.