15 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Minister Coltart, More Consultation Is Needed


The Sport and Recreation Commission's directive, that national team selectors need to have represented Zimbabwe in their particular sporting discipline to qualify for such selection portfolios from next month, has triggered a wave of controversy.

Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister, David Coltart - who directed the Sports Commission to issue the directive - has been sucked into an ugly row which has some racial connotations, with Zimbabwe Cricket convenor of selectors, Givemore Makoni, sharply criticising the Minister.

Coltart says the new directives are not aimed at cricket only and were issued to safeguard national interests with prospects high that a selection panel, which has former internationals who have represented the country at the highest level, will deliver a better job than one without such expertise.

That Coltart has a passion to see Zimbabwean sport taking a huge leap forward isn't in doubt and he has demonstrated that very well by taking a leading role to try and address the challenges that our various sporting disciplines are facing and how they can be turned around.

He has been very supportive of Zimbabwean athletes and took a front seat position, in trying to cheer our athletes to the medals' podium, during the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

We have no reason to believe that the Minister is in any way working against the interests of our sporting structures and we remain convinced that he wants to see a big move forward, towards a successful era, to complement the raw talent that we have in abundance.

Where we see a problem, especially in his latest directive, is that it's a national policy that is being fast-tracked, sadly, without giving due consideration to input from the very sporting disciplines that will be affected by these changes.

There is a clear disregard for consultation, on the part of the Minister and the Sports Commission, who have suddenly usurped the roles of superhuman authorities who know it all and can impose anything on anyone as long as they believe that it's the right thing to do.

That is not the right way to come up with long-term national policies on sport and you don't issue a directive in January, and expect everyone to be compliant by February 1, especially when you consider the sensitivity of some of the issues that will arise in the process.

The Minister should have consulted widely, before issuing his directive, and that would have helped him see both the strengths and weaknesses of the plan and, after he had taken everything into consideration, would he then have given the associations his recommendations.

The associations would then respond, highlighting their concerns, if there are any, and proposing the best way things can be moved forward.

But all that was not done and what we now have is a half-baked and controversial directive which, while good on face value, falls far short in addressing historical challenges, as those found in cricket, where some black players were shut out of the national team in the '80s and '90s because of the colour of their skin.

Makoni might have gone hysterical but he has a valid point in that it's unfair for someone like him, whose path into the national team was blocked by an evil quota system that only allowed two blacks to play for Zimbabwe at a time, to be haunted by his lack of opportunities playing for that team.

For Coltart to say that Dave Mutendera and Tatenda Taibu can come in shows how narrow that catchment area is, when it comes to cricket, and doesn't address the fundamental issue that Makoni raises which should not be ignored as if it didn't happen.

Because of the history of our cricket, where it has come from, the challenges it has faced and how it has moved on to become a national sport today, from a very small elite sport 20 years ago, there is need to handle that discipline with care and consider the past before coming up with policy for the future.

People like Makoni will always feel racially threatened because they went through it and suffered a lot and having been kept out of the national team, on the basis of their colour, they have a right to ask questions when that is now used to keep them out of key structures like the panel of selectors.

These are tough and sensitive questions that Coltart was supposed to consider and address before making it mandatory that all national sporting associations, which have a panel of selectors, have to comply with his directive from February 1.

Even our colleagues in South Africa are regularly confronted with the race issue, in cricket and rugby, and recently, Makhaya Ntini, the most celebrated of all South African cricketers, questioned if the system there was friendly to the development of black Proteas.

The biggest puzzle we find in the new regulations is that a person like Steve Mangongo, tipped to be the next national cricket coach, would be qualified enough to hold that position but not good enough to select the team because he never played for Zimbabwe.

Something just doesn't sound right here.

Even Kirsty Coventry, Zimbabwe's iconic athlete, said while she was in support of the directive, there was need to consider other issues.

"I support the directive to ensure all national selectors have previously represented Zimbabwe in their sport. This is logical," she said.

"If I were up for selection, I would want my selectors to have, at the very least, participated in that sport on a national level. I would trust them to know what they are doing, why they are doing it and what to look for in the athletes.

"I believe a balanced approach would be better because I know you can be an expert in analysis etc without having participated (at national level). If required, then the majority of selectors, as a minimum, should have participated at a national level. As much diversity as we need, we also need balance."

That's the point Minister and we are happy that you have conceded, in remarks we carry elsewhere in this newspaper, that you have seen the bigger picture.

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