International links vital for sports

That is the poet John Donne. Maybe I should say that was the poet John Donne since the man is no longer alive. Alright, if we agree on the latter then let me continue: that was the poet John Donne in his 1624 publication Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.

Thus, in the sporting world one belongs to a club that practises a specific discipline. That club is affiliated to a division, a league or some such other structure and that structure is a part of an association, a part of the main. The national sporting association is mandated to run its sport within the country but it too is not an island. It too is a part of the main. And so the national sporting association is affiliated to a federation, a world grouping. Below that affiliation to the global organisation are other ties, bilateral and multilateral, to regional, continental and intercontinental groupings.

That is the way it should be.

Alright, alright, my friends, I see that you want to ask what this lecture is all about. You want to know whether Sunday Sport is now Sunday Sport School, or just Sunday School.

Talking of which: the teacher was testing the children in her Sunday school class. She wanted to find out whether they understood the issue of getting to heaven.

She asked them: “Class, if I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”

“No, ma’am,” the children chorused a response.

“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard , and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into heaven?”

Again, the answer was an emphatic “No!”

She was very happy as she felt that the children were on the right path. And so she continued, buoyed now by their responses thus far: “Well then, children, if I was kind to all people and kind to all animals, if I gave candy to children and loved my children and husband, would that get me into Heaven?”

The children literally jumped up with their “No!”

There was no containing the pride the teacher felt within her for her children- so upright, so consistent, so focused even at that tender age. So she decided to go for the kill:

“Very good, Class! Now, tell me, how can I get into Heaven?”

Five-year old Tommy shouted out: “Well, Miss, you gotta be dead!”

But I digress. Well, is that not what you always do, Mr Banda? So what is new?

Alright, my friends, alright. I was saying that no man is an island, entire of its own. I was saying that we are each a piece of the whole, a part of the main.

Which is why I was happy that over the past fortnight, Zimbabwe hosted two delegations from international associations.

The one delegation came from the International Cricket Council and comprised its president, Advocate Percy Sonn, its chief executive officer, Malcolm Speed, and the media and communications manager, Brian Murgatroyd. It was in Zimbabwe on a three-day fact-finding mission, at the invitation of the local cricket-governing body.

The ICC delegation met with the interim committee running cricket in Zimbabwe, the Minister of Education, Sport and Culture, The Honourable Aeneas Chigwedere, the national team’s coach and captain and other stakeholders. It left Harare with, in its own words, “a better understanding of the issues facing cricket in Zimbabwe.”

The delegation will report back to the ICC Executive Board at its next meeting later this year.

The other delegation was again a three-man one. It was in the country to evaluate the state of what Edson Arantes do Nascimento, that is Pele for you, has called the beautiful game.

The assistant development officer for Southern Africa with the world football governing body, Fifa, Thagiso Sethibe, led the delegation which met with a cross-section of the Zimbabwe soccer world: referees, coaches, Premier Soccer League officials, sports medicine practitioners. All these people represented organizations that are not islands, entire in themselves, but a piece of the main, a part of the continent.

The three-man delegation also evaluated the Zimbabwe Football Association’s long-term development plan.

That is as it should be because neither Zimbabwe Cricket nor Zifa are islands, entire on their own. Each is a part of the main. To that extent, it is healthy that it interacts with similar structures in the region and beyond, that it is exposed to best practice and that it gleans from key leanings from far and wide.

When an athlete or team finally walks out onto the field to play a match or compete in an event, a thousand and one pieces would have had to come together for that to happen like that. When a nation records victory on the field of play, it is not just happenstance.

What those one thousand and one pieces are and how they can be brought together to ensure the desired outcomes are challenges that a national sporting association could be confronted with for ages. They are challenges that the association could battle against for ages, and battle unsuccessfully.

Which is why when a chance occurs to learn from others it should be grasped with both hands, if not more!

Which is why I was happy that the former Botswana youth soccer coach and his delegation were here and that they got a chance to share with local administrators, coaches, referees and sports medicine practitioners.

Why go out and try to learn from your mistakes when you can sit back and learn from those of others? Remember, there is no need to go through the same mishaps that others have because your life is short you will not have time to go through all of them.

While you are busy to learn on your own, you are not scoring on the field of play and yet everyone loves a winner and so while you are not scoring you are losing administrators who jump ship to join successful outfits. You lose coaches ditto. You lose supporters and, very important, you lose that lifeblood of the modern game- sponsorship.

Just how important such international links are was manifest in the statements from the workshops.

Consider for example the call for the regional soccer grouping, Cosafa, to be serious with youth development programmes so that each and every association in the region has an under-12, under-15, under-17 and under-20 league. Sethibe pointed out that these structures should be national and cater for both boys and girls. He said from these structures would then come throughput that would stand their national associations in good stead in continental and world age-group tournaments such as the World Youth Championships and the Olympics.

August 2006
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