The swearing-in of Africa’s most decorated Olympian, Kirsty Coventry, as the country’s Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation on Monday, has raised hopes of restoring sanity to the country’s problematic sporting associations.The seven-time Olympic medal-winning swimmer is one of the 20 Cabinet ministers appointed by President Mnangagwa, with high expectations that her on-field achievements, and administrative prowess obtained from her global posts would rescue Zimbabwe’s tottering sporting systems.
Coventry’s appointment has been hailed by the bulk of country’s leading sports personalities who believe she has what it takes to restore sanity to sport.
However, critics says the 34-year-old swimmer has been thrown in the deep end considering the deplorable levels of corruption scandals that have rocked local sports.
Coventry, who has become the first sport professional to be appointed Sports minister in the country’s history, is obviously a shining light but there are concerns that she might be drowned by parlous state of local sport.
Football, cricket and rugby, are among the most affected, making Coventry’s task to transform them unenviable.
Sport, just like a number of sectors in the country, is in the intensive care unit, with most sports bodies implicated in various malfeasances.
Zimbabwe cricket nearly plunged into the wilderness when the International Cricket Council (ICC) leadership raised the red flag over the country’s continued membership because of a huge debt.
Football administration in Zimbabwe has also become a huge circus, with bungling the order of the day.
National teams struggle to raise funds to fulfil fixtures, with the Warriors being the only side to consistently attract benefactors such as Wicknell Chivhayo and Prophet Walter Magaya, who bail out the team.
So bad is the management that the corporate world is no longer keen to support national teams for fear of losing their hard-earned cash to management.
ZIFA, the football mother body, has been grappling with problems ranging from financial difficulties, barbarous travelling arrangements for teams, maladministration and lack of accountability in handling finances.
Coventry will be expected to bring sanity to this key national organisation.
She is expected to prescribe cautious but practical remedies.
Coventry is expecting all sports bodies to put their hands on the deck to stir the ship.
Outside the popular sports, Coventry will be expected to promote different sports including field and track events, and of course, the minority sports that have been ignored and lacked sponsorship for decades.
Sport provides a forum to learn skills such as discipline, confidence and leadership and it teaches core principles such as tolerance, co-operation and respect.
Such virtues have been disregarded by poor management and administrative scandals.
There is no argument that sports infrastructure development, both economic and social, is one of the major determinants of sports economic growth, especially in developing countries and Coventry is faced with dilapidating stadiums, idle swimming pools.
Lack of sports funding continues to haunt Zimbabwe’s sporting fraternity, and there has been blame-game with national associations crying foul over lack of support from Government and corporates.
While the nation expects the new Sports minister to deal with the multi-faceted ills of various sports federations, try and cleanse the sports
stables, Coventry says her job now is to provide stability, and unity of purpose.
Given that Coventry has other duties including Youth, Arts and Recreation, there is a view that the new minister will have a plateful.
However, she hailed her appointment, and pledged to do everything in her power to turnaround local sport.
“I am honoured to be appointed by President Mnangagwa as Zimbabwe’s Minister of Youth, Sports, Art and Recreation. I will continue to carry our flag with pride and dedication of service so we can come together and take Zimbabwe forward,” said Coventry.
“I want to take my time, learning and familiarising with what Minister Kazembe was doing, then meeting the team. God bless you and God bless Zimbabwe.”
Coventry added that transforming sport would require collaboration with all other people involved, to make “a proper difference” and to create a “good foundation for years and years to come”.
President Mnangagwa has defended Coventry’s appointment saying no one was born “in the corridors of power”.
Coventry already sits on the International Olympic Committee board as an executive member.
She is also the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee vice president, among other international commitments.