These Women: Zimbabwe’s neglected sports champions
By: Grace Chirumhanzu
Kirsty Coventry, the Zimbabwean swimmer, flew out of the London empty-handed after the 2012 Summer Olympics, having had the courage to compete after suffering from pneumonia. She had haplessly trailed an American teenage sensation who, not only broke the world record Coventry had set, but was a pacesetter who denied Coventry a podium finish in a style she is strong in—the 200m backstroke.
In response, the media in Zimbabwe failed to acknowledge her struggles and appreciate her courage to even compete when the odds were against her.
“Why did she go ahead with the competition if she had been sick?”
“At her age is it not time for her to retire anyway?!”
That was the tone veiled in the reports that appeared disappointed by an athlete who “owed” Zimbabwe an Olympic medal.
On the other hand, the Golden Girl, as Coventry is affectionately known, has admitted that in swimming, the younger an athlete, the better her chances of winning. And surely Coventry is not growing any younger. She will be turning 33 years old next year and she dares to face the challenge of competing again in next year’s Summer Games in Brazil.
That alone should be lauded as a bold effort.
She has already displayed her ability of being the country’s medalist next year by winning gold medals at the 2015 All Africa Games in Congo-Brazzaville.
Coventry is the flagship of Zimbabwe’s success at the Olympics, one of the most successful Zimbabwean sports personality of all time.
Along with her the successes of tennis ace Cara Black, the national hockey team –the golden girls- who won Zimbabwe’s first gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, among other successful women in sports, can never be undermined.
Why then should our media be reactionary to women’s participation in sports? Why do we get to know of these stars only when they have hogged the limelight?
Women in sports have been portrayed through the media as curtain raisers in a men’s show. They never get to lead the story, and their achievements are hidden in the conclusions of big stories featuring sportsmen.
We always get to read, meanwhile in the women’s category this happened. Is that an afterthought? It stands as a reminder to the rare readers who read reports to the end that, by the way before you finish there was this woman who tried to do what the men were doing.
Young Zimbabwean girls need to grow up having dreams of representing this nation in sports and feeling it is their space. This is not possible if the national women’s football, cricket, rugby teams, among others, are treated, not just by the media, but by their own associations, like second-class citizens.
There is need for corporates to invest financially in women’s sports, various associations to develop and nurture women’s participation at the grassroots level and for sports journalists not to be chauvinistic in their reports.
This piece has been published as part of a series promoting the voices of young Zimbabwean feminists, in partnership with HOLAAfrica!, a pan-African queer womanist platform, Her Zimbabwe, an initiative that nurtures young women’s digital activism, and Urgent Action Fund – Africa, a pan-African feminist fund. Follow us on Twitter: @HOLAAfrica, @herzimbabwe, @UAFAfrica.