The year 2014 has been tough for Zimbabwean sport with most of the country’s national teams failing to make a mark internationally.
Apart from the Davis Cup team’s qualification to the 2015 Euro-Africa Zone Group Two, there was nothing to cheer for Zimbabweans as the country suffered humiliation in most sporting disciplines like soccer, rugby, cricket and others.
Davis Cup players Mark Fyn and Tinotenda Chanakira were eliminated in the second round of the ITF Satellite Circuit, which the country hosted, painting a gloomy picture of the future of singles tennis in Zimbabwe.
Veteran tennis player, Cara Black, had a good season on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour winning three titles with her Indian partner, Sonia Mirza. They won in Portugal, Tokyo, and scooped the BNP Paribas WTA title in Beijing.
In boxing, although Charles Manyuchi gave Zimbabweans something to smile about after winning the World Boxing Council International Welterweight title, the rugby squad, affectionately known as the Sables, failed to win Africa’s sole ticket to the 2015 World Cup, losing out to Namibia in the process.
Rugby was even hit harder after the National Rugby League ended prematurely as the local clubs could not afford to foot some financial requirements when Lion Lager withdrew their sponsorship.
FALL OF THE WARRIORS
As if this was not enough, the national soccer side, the Warriors, also failed to qualify for the finals of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. They were dismissed 3-2 by lowly-rated Tanzania in a crucial qualifying match.
Agitated football administrators, subsequently dissolved the national team following the Tanzania debacle, resulting in the drafting of the young Warriors squad into all Zimbabwean soccer tournaments.
The defeat claimed the scalp of national coach, Ian Gorowa, who lost his job as the Warriors stuttered to their worst-ever elimination in the Nations Cup since their debut in 1980.
The Zimbabwe Football Association also humiliated the nation after bidding for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations without the basic requirements. The bid was thrown out before the real search had started.
But the worst for sport fans was still to come as the Zimbabwe national cricket team was thrashed 3-0 in Test matches and 5-0 in One Day Internationals or ODIs by Bangladesh, widely regarded as the weakest team in Test cricket.
That is not all. Even Dynamos Football Club, once southern Africa’s flag bearers in Pan-African football, failed for the third year running to reach the mini-league stage of the Confederation of African Football or CAF Champions League after losing in the first round to AS Vita of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, the good news for Dynamos is that the club retained the coveted domestic Castle Lager Premier Soccer League title, making it four times in row.
Although another league title excited their fans, coach Kalisto Pasuwa, packed his bags and left the club, saying he had accomplished his mission.
Despite hosting the Africa Sports Council Region 5 Youth Games, the country could not translate that hosting advantage into medals as they finished second behind South Africa.
Zimbabwean authorities appear to have been monitoring all the events as Sports Minister Andrew Langa admitted at the Annual National Sports Awards that they were honouring mediocrity, adding that most local sportspersons failed to live up to their billing in 2014.
But there were celebrations for some tough competitors like Rutendo Nyahora, who won virtually every marathon in the country including the Westgate Half Marathon, Gutu Marathon, Vumba Mountain Run and Victoria Falls Marathon.
Nyahora and boxer Manyuchi smiled all the way to their banks as they got thousands of dollars in their sporting fields. The boxer, who also scooped the 2014 Zimbabwe Sportsperson of the Year Award, strongly believes that he deserved the national award.
As Zimbabweans reflect on what has been a bad year gone by, it is also important that they also look forward to the future with renewed vigour and optimism.
The Cricket World Cup is coming. Zimbabwe has been drawn in the same group with South Africa, India, Pakistan, the West Indies, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates in the finals to be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
A new coach, Australian Dave Whatmore, has been appointed and Zimbabwe Cricket chairman, Wilson Manase, says the coach is the right choice for the national team.
In soccer, although Dynamos have withdrawn from the CAF Champions League, Zimbabwe will be represented in Pan-African football by FC Platinum, who will feature in the CAF Confederation Cup. The Midlands side have been drawn against Sofapaka of Kenya in the preliminary round.
Coach Norman Mapeza says they are going to give it their best shot.
At the same time, the Davis Cup which participated in the elite World Group way back in 1999, hope to continue their climb back up the ladder with a date against Bosnia-Herzegovina at Harare Sports Club in March but funds are not yet available to host the tie.
Tennis Zimbabwe president, Regis Bhunu, is appealing for support.
The year will also mark the final stage of selecting the Zimbabwean team for the 2016 Olympic Games. A shortlist has been made and seven-time Olympic medal winner, Kirsty Coventry, is one of those athletes.
Manyuchi too will be hard-pressed to make the mandatory defenses of both his Africa Boxing Union and World Boxing Council International title. Unfortunately, the boxer fights in Zambia but under the Zimbabwean flag.
Yes, the year 2014 has come to an end, and what a bad year it was for Zimbabwean sport. The focus now is on the year 2015 with high hopes that it will bring the much-needed smile for Zimbabweans facing various challenges, including their struggle to make ends meet.