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A thin line between national interest, logic



By Enock Muchinjo

WHEN Knowledge Musona deftly lost his marker just outside the box before exquisitely dipping the ball over the Egyptian goalkeeper for Zimbabwe’s equaliser, three traveling press corps rose in unison and punched the air to celebrate a great goal.

Why would we not? It was a wonder goal by the Warriors talisman on that trip in 2013, and we were Zimbabwean journalists covering the important World Cup qualifier for nationally-circulating newspapers.

Strange but true, though it is a scenario that raises the question of how journalists covering the sport beat are likely to struggle to strike a balance between attachment to a certain team or sportsmen, and their professional responsibilities.

It is some kind of minefield for sports journalism and, in my personal experience, I have come across quite a few of these situations.

One of them has been an attempt of mine to unearth the frequently repeated myths about the gross mistreatment of Zimbabwean teams while on foreign trips.

While true to an extent, the gravity of this psychological warfare, in my humble experience, has not been anything close to what I had grown up reading about.

Confronted with such a situation, what level of objectivity should a journalist retain, crucially when covering sensitive issues pertaining to his country?

This week, Zimbabwean football champions FC Platinum were bundled out of the African Champions League by Tanzanian club Simba, who took full advantage after the visitors were forced to play without five of their key players who had tested positive for Covid-19.

The natural reaction back home in Zimbabwe was of emotion, with those sympathetic to FC Platinum bemoaning what they suspected to be foul play.

Those that however chose to look at things the other way asked a pertinent question: are we not as a nation burying our heads in the sand?

Recently, nine members of Zimbabwe’s squad in training camp for the African Nations Championship (Chan) tournament in Cameroon were quarantined after testing positive for Covid-19. The trip might not take place if the Sports and Recreation Commission declines to approve it.

Typically, as Zimbabweans, the detected Covid-19 cases in the team’s camp has not been met with the kind of reaction it warrants.

This week, we had been working on a story over how many more squad members are exposed to this disease, seeing the very relaxed conditions at the team’s hotel.

Squad members, who are supposed to be in a bio-secure bubble ahead of the Cameroon trip, have been exposed to contact to the outside world as witnessed by us.

Some hotel staff members, mostly casual workers who come into contact with the team, go to their homes after finishing work, reporting for duty the next morning.

Under bubble measures, these people must also be housed in a secure environment alongside the team.
Furthermore, players and team management have occasionally been spotted outside the perimeter of their lodgings.

In light of these facts, we posed some questions this week to the Zifa communications office.
For example, we wanted to know how Zifa was enforcing the bio-secure system when players and staff had been seen away from what is supposed to be a safer environment.

We also wanted to know how a New Year’s eve party last week had been attended by staff members who live outside the hotel and, if their contact with the local community does not leave the team in deeper crisis in the case of more infections to squad members.

We also wanted to know if further tests had been done after the nine players were found to have Covid-19.

The response from Zifa was prompt: “No one in the country is secure from Covid-19 infection. That risk is reduced at the team’s hotel due to restricted access.”

“…Repeat tests were done on the players and staff that had previously tested negative. One more technical team member tested positive and was put in isolation.”

Carefully written statement, we thought, but falling short on genuine commitment to confront the elephant in the room. 

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