Have we lost our way?


Harare – When Cara Black won her second Zimbabwe Sportsperson of the Year award gong in 2007, she was the best doubles player in the world and, working in tandem with Liezel Huber, won the Australia and Wimbledon titles.

This year, when Black returned to the Women’s Tennis Association Tour after a one-and-half year break to give birth to her first child, she won just three doubles titles, none of them a Grand Slam gong.

But, still, she was named Zimbabwe’s Sportsperson of the Year.

It was the fourth Zimbabwe Sportsperson of the Year gong for tennis ace Black who completed her hat-trick of titles when she won in 2011 after having earlier been voted the best sportsperson in her country in 2006 and 2007.

Analysts have been questioning, though, whether this represents a reflection of a spectacular fall in sporting standards in Zimbabwe that someone, who clearly is in the twilight of what has been a remarkable doubles tennis career, can come back to the scene and then be crowned the best sportsperson in the country?

“I think we need to look ourselves in the mirror after what happened this year because, as far as I am concerned, this is the biggest statement we have just made to tell the world that sport has died in this country,” leading Zimbabwean sports consultant, Shepherd Chiware, told The Southern Times.

“Cara has been an outstanding ambassador for our country over the year and you can say that she has run her marathon and her wins, especially the Grand Slam tournaments, raised our profile as a sporting country.

“But Cara will be 35 in February next year and she took almost two years, away from the tour to take care of her family interests, and there is no way you can say that, even when she provided us with a refreshing story, seeing her winning the two or three tournaments in her comeback year, I feel that she came short of doing something that could be considered good enough to help her win the Sportsperson of the Year award.

“You can say that she was the sentimental favourite because there is a lot of sentiment seeing someone going away to give birth to her first child and returning, after a year-and-half, to win three tournaments on the WTA.

“But the Sportsperson of the Year isn’t award about sentiment but about excellence and you have to reward only the best and if we believe that Cara was the best, just because she won three tournaments on the tour, I think it tells us that we have lost the plot and lowered the standards in our sport.”

Cara takes over as the Sportsperson of the Year from golfer Brendon de Jonge, who is based in the United States, who was voted the best athlete in Zimbabwe last year despite the fact that he is still to win his first title on the US PGA tour. But the drama hasn’t been confined to Zimbabwe.

Across the Limpopo in South Africa, football star Itumeleng Khune was named the 2013 Sportsperson of the Year, after a public vote, in which he was deemed to have played better than star cricketer Hashim Amla, whose batting excellence helped the Proteas rocket to the top of the Test rankings in the world.

The irony of Khune’s rise to be crowned the best athlete in South Africa came in the year that Bafana Bafana, the national football team that he captains, crashed out of the quarter-finals of the 2013 African Nations Cup finals that they hosted.

Bafana Bafana also failed, in their bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup finals, and their humiliation wasn’t only reflected by the fact that they were beaten to the ticket by Ethiopia but that, even after the East Africans have been deducted three points from a match they had won for fielding an ineligible player, they still finished ahead of the South Africans.

While Khune led Kaizer Chiefs to the league championship on the home front, the failures of the teams that he led on the international front should have weighed heavily against him, but in a vote conducted by the fans whose choice is influenced by club affiliation than the substance of the achievements of the athletes.

In contrast Cameron van der Burgh captured the world title by winning the world championship, in the 50m breaststroke final, at the FINA world championships this year and while he was among the three finalists for the South Africa Sportsperson of the Year award, he missed out in the battle for the big gong in what was essentially a popularity contest.

It is very unlikely there will be any drama in Botswana, if they are to honour their outstanding athlete of 2013, with 400m runner, Amantle Montsho winning silver at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow, Russia, after one of the greatest races in living memory.

Montsho was the defending champion and, with 15 metres to go, she was in complete control, leading by about two metres and well on her way to winning the title.

But Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu had other plans and charged at Montsho, in the closing stages of a classic race, and he strength somehow managed to pull her level with her rival, with the final stride of the race, and then be declared the winner by the slimmest of margins, four thousandths of a second.

“We should be talking about world champions, when we talk about our Sportspersons of the Year, and the fact that someone who won a silver is the best athlete in Botswana, once again, tells my story that our standards have sharply fallen,” said Chiware.

Maybe, we have lost our way as a region when it comes to sport.

December 2013
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