By Goodwill Zunidza
Schools in Zimbabwe gradually began reopening this week amid mixed opinions on whether they can resume sporting activities immediately.
Sport in the educational sector completely mothballed during the lockdown period that started in March 2020, despite a window period for academic classes between August and December of that year.
On Monday, the Sport and Recreation Commission announced the conditional return of sport but said only low-risk sport that it did not specify would be allowed in schools.
It is feared the majority of schools in Zimbabwe will still fall foul of the main conditions set by the SRC for the resumption of any sport pertaining to Covid-19 prevention protocols.
Among the standard operating procedures demanded by SRC, all players and officials must be tested every two weeks, something most schools claim incapacitation from achieving.
An extra headache for the schools is the dilapidated nature of their fields which did not receive any attention during the lengthy break.
Sports masters at the country’s best-performing schools though upbeat on prospects of getting back into action further warned that effects of inactivity on performance might be far-reaching.
Most of Zimbabwe’s international success in sport has come from the junior ranks, buoyed by a highly- competitive youth development system sometimes rated on equal terms with the world’s best.
At its peak in the 1990s schoolboy rugby in Zimbabwe was counted among the top five internationally while the Dairibord Schools Rugby Festival at Prince Edward remains the world’s largest tournament of its kind.
As in rugby, scores if not hundreds of Zimbabwean school products have flooded the global sporting scene in such disciplines such as cricket, athletics, hockey and basketball and are making names for themselves with some now representing their countries of residence.
However the global coronavirus outbreak at the end of 2019 forced closure of schools and a possible reversal of all the sporting gains attained in the past.
Continued stagnancy in action due to the Covid regulations threatens to push back the recovery of lost time.
At the centre of current confusion is the classification of sporting codes into high, medium or low risk categories.
An SRC board member said they had discovered that some codes earlier assumed to be high risk had proved to be medium or low risk.
The remarks by Allan Chiura, the board member, left some schools hoping previously tagged sports like football, rugby and basketball might be authorized to restart.
The National Association of School Heads (NASH) president has since indicated that they will be seeking further clarification on the actual position.
The challenge will now lie in schools affording the costs related to the stringent Covid-19 requirements that include sanitization of the playing field every 48 hours before use.
This will severely affect low-income schools in high-density suburbs and rural district areas.
But even at the more urbane schools some popular competitions are already off the table whether or not sport is able to return this weekend.
The Dairibord rugby festival itself whose 2020 edition was cancelled is already doubtful for this year since its preparations normally start in January.
How schools play around their Covid-19 debacle could turn out to be the dry run for the country’s entire sporting sector.