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Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry displays her gold medal after the women's 200-meter backstroke final during the swimming competitions in the National Aquatics Center at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


REPEAT BY POPULAR DEMAND: Of all people, you’d think Kirsty Coventry would imagine how it feels



This week, the decorated Zimbabwean swimmer Kirsty Coventry, African’s greatest Olympian and now her country’s Sports minister, stirred a public outcry when in Parliament, she declared that the Zimbabwean government “don’t want then to lift it at this moment” in reference to the country’s suspension by world football governing body Fifa.

Opposition political party CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, a keen sports fan herself, was one of harshest critics of Coventry following the statement in Parly. “Imagine if Zimbabwe had been banned from Olympics at height of your swimming career,” bemoaned Mahere on Twitter.

Mahere received widespread support for her sentiments from a cross-section of Zimbabwean football fans, who felt that the country’s number one sport was being short-changed by the Fifa ban, which the government has the power over its prolonged stay. Back in February, The NewsHawks guest columnist and sports writer Alwyn Mabehla had penned this piece in a more in-depth critique, which we have reproduced by public demand following the latest uproar.


THE Summer Olympic Games are a venerated fête, a global sporting gala of gigantic proportions, second only to the football World Cup in terms of sheer size and prestige.

It is the dream of a lifetime for every athlete, every footballer, to go to the Olympics, to go to the World Cup.

Being denied the opportunity to do so, for any reason other than the athlete’s abilities and qualifications, is utterly unfair and heart-wrenching for the competitor.

Come to think about it, with Zimbabwe sinking deep into political crisis around 2004 – following the heavily disputed presidential elections of 2002 –what if the winner Robert Mugabe did the unthinkable of withdrawing our athletes from the Olympics in protest over what he deemed brazen Western interference in the affairs of Zimbabwe?

Of course, had that rather wild possibility taken place, Zimbabwe’s great swimmer Kirsty Coventry would not have gone to Athens for the 2004 Games to win the first of her record medal haul by an African sports star.

Perhaps not so “wild” a possibility when you consider that Coventry won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. A year later, Mugabe led Zimbabwe into withdrawing its membership from the Commonwealth, and the country has not returned ever since.

What if that rash decision of two decades ago had been made a year earlier, before Manchester? Kirsty would not have participated, mostly likely denying her the springboard that catapulted her to a decorated Olympics career over the next eight years in Athens and Beijing.

Perhaps she would not have been as successful at the Olympics, without that early confidence-booster in the United Kingdom.

And, how many more Kirsty Coventrys from Zimbabwe would have – during the 20 years in the wilderness – used the Commonwealth Games as a launch pad for great careers of their own?

As we speak, Zimbabwe is an international football pariah, suspended by world governing body Fifa last March for the government’s sports regulator’s avoidable direct punitive measure against errant officials of the national football federation, Zifa.

If not reinstated in time, Zimbabwe will not be allowed to play in the qualification competition for the next World Cup in 2026, a hammer blow for a generation of footballers with a very good chance of finally taking this country to the Promised Land.

Already, the Warriors are effectively out of next year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals as the qualifiers started in the midst of Zimbabwe’s sanction.

Spare a thought for the talented and versatile group of Zimbabwean footballers dotted around the world. They will be feeling the same as Coventry would have felt had the madness of the Commonwealth pullout carried over to the Olympics.

Certainly, it would be equally hard to take, being made to pay for the sins of an enraged tyrant, and the actions of some football officials with sticky fingers.

Meanwhile Coventry – Africa’s greatest Olympian – is Zimbabwe’s Sports minister in all this.

The epic irony.

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