The greatest façade in corporate Zimbabwe is the “support the girl child” mantra and this is well highlighted by women’s rugby whose growth has been stunted by corporate neglect.
For the men’s teams, it may not be that rosy but at least they have a team sponsor and get to fly around the world to invitational tournaments.
The cultural disparity between the sexes is vast, the degree, difficulty of reconciling work/sport and family life is so difficult that it is a familiar sight to see a lactating mother feeding her child before and after a match.
Add to that, a global trend of poor media coverage of their games and the limited nature of private funding seems to be the norm.
National Women’s Sevens Rugby head coach Abigail Kawonza poured her heart out following the Lady Cheetahs’ emphatic win in the women’s finals to wrap up an actioned packed two days of the Kwese Sevens Tournament at the Machinery Exchange Stadium, Harare Sports Club last weekend.
It was a clinical clean sweep in the pool stages of the ladies’ tournament after beating Zambia (19-0), Zimbabwe A (19-7) and Zimbabwe Southern Sevens (24-5) on Saturday.
On Sunday, the Lady Cheetahs conceded only one try in the tournament as they beat Zambia 31-0 in their final.
Kawonza, a former club and national player is also a referee handling domestic and international games either as an on field referee or the sighting official.
“It’s sad that many still think that competitive sports is not an appropriate activity for young women. My personable narrative is as much about the daily lives of the players as it is about the sport and how we have to cushion each other for the sake of the nation.
“We share the little we have and there isn’t much from the association and sponsors in general. Remember some of the girls are mothers while some are breadwinners,” she said.
“They have to get a side job to sustain their lives. Some of them do not mind being maids. We have failed to attend a big tournament in Hongkong, Dubai among other invitations due to financial constraints. Recently, we received an invite from Italy but it’s an uphill task. Some of these federations do not even bother to write to us because they already know our situation. It’s draining and yet we always play well.
“Imagine what they could do with more support and resources?” she questioned.
Kawonza has coached and played for Old Hararians and she coaches the Lady Cheetahs and the national 15s side.
She led the ladies in the Africa Cup where they were once ranked as Africa’s number two.
Kawonza and some executives within Zimbabwe Rugby have had to fork out from their pocket to fund trips, transport and food for camps and invitational.
The coach’s family donated one of their houses to be used to accommodate some of the girls in camp – the generosity by the coach and those within rugby circles has still not formalised into a permanent solution that will fix the prevailing neglect once these well-wishers are gone.
Despite rugby being the third biggest sport in Zimbabwe it is also the largest non-professional union which is based mainly on volunteers like Kawonza, a drop in the ocean grant and a few sponsors.
Asked why she sacrifices and continues to fight endless battles to get her players a chance to experience some sort of professional rugby.
“That’s what passion is all about. I should have stopped because I wasn’t getting paid neither did I expected any money from the association. It is just the desire will keep you going, even on tough days where students may be acting out, or you experience multiple losses. When faced with challenges, you could lose momentum. I have always played sports and enjoyed the game, the friendships made, and the energy. My passion for sports and coaching can be seen in my enthusiasm to maintain and grow our sports programmes,” she said.
Kawonza added, “I understand that there are ups and downs of being an athletic director but the excitement never disappears. I love every minute I spent with these bold, daring women.”
Kawonza hopes for more international invitational as they cast their eyes cast on the Africa Cup, relishing the opportunity to test themselves against some of the continent’s top teams slated for June this year.
“For Zimbabwe, the invitational tourney provides the much needed competitive time as well as an opportunity to lure more provincial unions to invite them onto the field.”
“We hope that we get more game time to accommodate the growth and appetite for competitive women’s sevens in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa,” said Kawonza.
For corporates and companied, the Africa Cup will be an opportunity to invest in a brand that is clean, reputable and gaining momentum in Zimbabwe and Africa – Sunday’s victory has attracted the attentions of Georgian people who tweeted directly to the Minister of Sport Kirsty Coventry who is a former sportswoman.
Women suffer frequent discrimination in their access to, and practice of, both amateur and professional sport.
However, if you look beyond the latest generation of players, every woman that has laced up boots in the past century has done so against a backdrop of hostility.