Sports

2020: A year to forget in sport

GROUNDED . . . The Zimbabwe senior netball team, seen here at the Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England, in July last year, were one of the hardest-hit national sides by the ripple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as they could not build on the momentum from the global show-piece

Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter

AS 2020 comes to an end in two weeks’ time, for many in the sporting fraternity it is a lost year and one they would rather forget after missing on a number of opportunities due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Entering into 2020, targets and goals were set for the year just like we usually do at the beginning of the year, hoping for better fortunes, some would want to call them New Year’s resolutions.

And for sportspersons it usually revolves around challenging themselves to do better in their sport of choice, qualifying for major events, competing and meeting their set goals and targets, more financial gains.

Unknown to all, 2020 changed a lot, including the way people interact following the Covid-19 outbreak. The pandemic has had ripple effects across the globe and sport was not spared.

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It is not only about missed competition opportunities but also the effect it has had on the economic side of sport.

Among the sad moments for Zimbabwe is the domestic football failing to kick-off and up to now there has not been any form of competitive football taking place although the top-flight football has been given permission to commence in a bio-secure environment in line with Covid-19 protocols.

It appears the proposed mini-tournament that was proposed for Premier Soccer League clubs would not take place with just two weeks before the end of the year.

Warriors’ coach Zdravko Logarusic has had to improvise in the selection of the CHAN squad since the league has failed to kick-off this season.

Zimbabwe’s representatives at the COSAFA Championship — the Mighty Warriors, Under-17 women’s team as well as the Under-20 men’s side — failed to go beyond the group stages in South Africa.

The women’s sides paid the price after they were sent to battle poorly equipped and without preparations. They had not played any form of competitive football this year following the ban on contact sport as part of the coronavirus lockdown measures.

Unlike other countries that returned to competitive football earlier and enabled their players to prepare for international commitments, ZIFA did not show enough commitment.

It was going to be a miracle for the women’s teams to come back home with positive results considering they only had two weeks to prepare following the long break forced by the outbreak of coronavirus. Experts had suggested that players need at least six weeks to adequately prepare for competitive games. But ZIFA could not arrange the training camps on time.

Zimbabwe’s Under-21 netball team missed a chance to qualify for next year’s Netball World Youth Cup scheduled to take place in Fiji in December after the qualifiers to the event were cancelled.

The International Netball Federation then opted to use rankings for teams to earn their places at the global show-piece and for the African Region, the top three — South Africa, Malawi and Uganda — earned their spots.

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Zimbabwe, sitting on position four in Africa, could not make it.

Not only that, the senior national team had the Africa Cup, which was also cancelled, and for a team like the Gems, following their incredible debut appearance at the Vitality Netball World Cup, what they needed was continuity in terms of competition and building on what they had achieved.

All that is gone.

One of the top netball players in the country Sharon Bwanali feel disappointed.

“We should have gone for the Africa Cup. With the way we played at the World Cup obviously there were clubs following and scouts; and I believe if we had gone to the Africa Cup this year, some would have made follow-ups during the tournament.

“So those are some of the opportunities we missed this year,” Bwanali said.

In March an announcement was made that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games were being rescheduled for 2021.

Most of the qualifiers to the world’s largest sporting event were either cancelled or postponed, leaving athletes and coaches, who had put in the work, devastated.

Some of the targeted sport codes still seeking qualification like judo, athletics and swimming have to restart preparing, aiming for qualifying events slated for next year.

Sprinter Dickson Kamungeremu feels hard done by the pandemic.

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“At personal level Covid-19 affected me to a great extent. Last year I had the opportunity to go to South Africa for camping at a High Performance Centre preparing for the Olympic qualifiers but due to pandemic everything is lost.

“This time I could not manage to go to South Africa (for another camp) because of finances. But last year I had many promises from people who were willing to sponsor me but due to this pandemic, all the potential sponsors are gone because their businesses were also affected,” Kamungeremu said.

On the other hand, the local athletics mother-body admitted in terms of revenues it has been a difficult year as they rely on subscriptions from their members and sanctioning fees as well as assistance grants from their partners.

But with no events running it has not been easy.

For swimming it has been a tale of mixed fortunes with locally-based swimmers getting competition after they got cleared but those based outside the country have had restricted competitions.

“The implications have been on regional and continental, like all our continental championships were cancelled. We are still not sure what’s going to happen with regional competitions next year,” said Zimbabwe Swimming chairperson Tracey Doorman.

The International Handball Federation Trophy Zone Six that was initially scheduled for April in Harare was moved to next year. Zimbabwe were looking forward to hosting this event.

The Davis Cup tennis team has had to wait a bit longer for their World Group II tie against China after it was rescheduled for 2021 and several international events that are usually hosted here in Zimbabwe were cancelled.

Seasoned karateka Samson Muripo has had to resort to training following the postponement of all the international competitions he was targeting to compete in, including the Second So-kyokushin World Karate Championships.

Top female boxer Monalisa Sibanda was set to defend the Women’s International Boxing Association (WIBA) World Intercontinental light-welterweight title but it appears it’s no longer possible for that to happen this year.

It hasn’t been a good period for Zimbabwe Cricket, who apart from being forced to void the domestic league and to cancel most of their international fixtures, had to deal with the coronavirus pandemic within their ranks.

Zimbabwe had a bright start to the year, with a home Test series against Sri Lanka followed by a full tour of Bangladesh.

However, the scheduled home series against Ireland for one Test and five T20Is in March-April were postponed due to Covid-19.

Three ODIs against Australia, India and the Netherlands were also cancelled. They also had to reach a mutual agreement with Afghanistan to abandon plans for a T20I series that was supposed to see them playing five T20I matches at home.

These fixtures would have seen Zimbabwe having a busy schedule compared to previous calendar years after failing to qualify for the T20 World Cup and are not part of the World Test Championship.

Zimbabwe still managed to tour Pakistan in October but their preparations were dealt a blow following revelations that two players — Regis Chakabva and Timycen Maruma — and two staffers had tested positive for Covid-19.

They also had five more Covid-19 cases on the eve of the Logan Cup competition that got underway in Harare recently in a bio-secure bubble.

The positive cases were confirmed after up to 100 players and support staff members were tested for the coronavirus during a screening exercise conducted before they could enter into a bio-secure bubble set up for the first-class tournament.

The affected players have since recovered.

Women’s cricket was the hardest hit by the off-field issues that bedevilled the game in the 2019-2020 season.

Zimbabwe national women’s cricket team last played an international match in May last year when they won the ICC Women’s Qualifier Africa Region 2019.

They were supposed to play at the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2020 in Sri Lanka but the event was postponed to next year due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

HERALD