The London 2012 Olympics are now a part of our history and focus is now on political parties haggling of who has the right and muscle to massage the COPAC-Led Draft Constitution. Zimbabwe made history in that no medals were achieved in the games despite phenomenal achievements from the seven athletes who represented the country. The games concluded with the appointment of Kirsty Coventry to the IOC Athletes board, but what does this all mean for Zimbabwe. Is there a relationship between sports and economic development, in particular income growth and poverty alleviation or is sport a weekend pastime for Zimbabwe’s largely unemployed youth as they get manipulated to justify Parliamentary funding for Zimbabwe’s political parties?
In Europe and most developed countries, sports are increasingly important to the economy. About 2 million people are employed in the sports economy in the 15 member countries of the European Union – that is, 1.3 per cent of overall EU employment. And the sports economy is growing. In Europe, in the early 1970s, the ratio of overall sport expenditures (for goods and services) to GDP was around 0.5 per cent. In 1990, the ratio ranged between 1 and 1.5 per cent of GDP in most European countries (Andreff and Szymanski, 2006). In the UK, the contribution of the sports economy to GDP is currently estimated at more than 2%. As a comparison: this is three times as high as the current contribution of agriculture to GDP in the UK.
In the Atlanta Games in 1996, the British team achieved one gold medal only and immediately reviewed its priorities, injecting a lot of its National Lottery funding into elite Olympic sports for the first time. The return on investment was almost instant. In the Sydney Games of 2000, Team GB won 11 golds - the first time Britain won more than 10 golds since the Antwerp Games in 1920 - and 28 medals in total. Athens in 2004 saw a similar return, the last games before the Olympic Committee awarded the 2012 games to London. Investment in Olympic sports in the UK immediately rocketed in preparation for the country's first games since 1948, and again the return was both immediate and spectacular - the British team won 19 golds and 47 medals in total in Beijing in 2008 and 29 golds and 65 medals in all in the London 2012 Olympics. In essence, the Lottery accounted for about 60% of funding for GB's Olympic teams' preparation for the London Games with almost 40% coming directly from the UK government
Comparable and representative data on the economic value of sports in Zimbabwe are not readily available, including most developing countries. In this paper we focus therefore on two specific issues which seem particularly relevant for the impact of economic development. The first is the impact of sports/infrastructure investments on development; the second is about migration of sports players and development. Sadly for Zimbabwean sport, it is at the mercy of individuals which has seen Cuthbert Dube (Zifa President) using his personal house to guarantee debts for the National Team to participate in national tournaments. National institutions should never be the personal responsibility of individuals because firstly, it is beyond their capacity and mandate and secondly, their actions will not be in the interests of the nation or the development of sport ultimately. Kenya’s gold medal winners emerged from the remote parts of Kenya with no modern training facilities apart from dusty and bumpy strip roads. The focus in Zimbabwe has been to focus on urban cities as catchment areas with athletics relegated to mining towns which have since become ghost towns with lots of talent being put to waste whilst Zimbabwe's unemployment rate exceeds 80%.
Zimbabwe has ridden at the back of Kirsty Coventry for all its haul of Olympic gold medals and a dysfunctional and non-existent youth sports development and funding is failing a generation of otherwise talented youth people with potential. The exodus of Zimbabweans into the Diaspora since 2000 has seen a new generation of Zimbabweans emerging with a lot of talent and expertise that has been developed using state of the art facilities and a pool of professional coaches and sporting experts. The Sports and Recreation Commission should be at the epi-centre of enticing and tapping into this talent pool to leverage on sports development. At the London meeting with the Zimbabwean Diasporas during the London Olympics, Senator David Coltart had the opportunity to meet and interact with some of this abundant talent such as Stanley Madiri. Stanley is a successful and experienced athletics coach both in Zimbabwe and the UK. Stanley Madiri currently coaches Christina Ohurugu, 400m athlete who achieved a gold in Beijing and a silver in the London games representing team GB in the Olympics. He is also behind British 200m champion Desiree Henrys and Jodie Williams, world junior champion who won gold in the 100m and silver in the 200min Canada 2011.
The London meeting recommended the setting up of an entity to support development of sports and education in Zimbabwe which taps into the Diaspora market. The issue of dual citizenship is key to the development of sports which integrates the global nature of Zimbabwean talent which also needs to be reviewed ahead of other outdated considerations being proposed. Other African nationals are already showing a keen interest in this model, but Zimbabwe needs a coherent national drive to pursue this model with the global context of its nationals and learning from other countries dominated by migrant populations such as Jamaica, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana who have a lot of players plying their trade in the elite sports abroad such as football, basketball and athletics. The next Olympics will be held in Rio, Brazil in 2016 and a blue print of what sports to focus on needs to be developed and a clear strategic plan adopted. The idea of creating a Sports Lottery fund to directly support medal potential sports and athletes is worth pursuing and for priorities of the government to be reviewed to support aspirations of young people and prosperity of the nation as a long term strategy. Jamaica focused on athletics and they are now riding on this success crest which we can learn from, being a smaller nation like Zimbabwe.