By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka------Zambia’s chances of making a debut at the Olympic women football competition hangs in the balance-thanks to the COVID-19 which has seen a flurry of events and has accelerated economic meltdown globally.
Zambia, last participated in the Olympic Games in 1988 through the senior football team. The women’s team, nicknamed: “Shepolopolo” was expected to represent the country during the events initially slated for July 24 until August 9 but has since been put back to July 23 to August 8, 2021 in Tokyo, according to International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese organisers, fearing the effects of the plague which has devastated lives and economies.
But, Shepolopolo has cried out over the rescheduling of the event, fearing the lost opportunity might have affected the team’s morale and frustrated the chances of the girls ever taking part for unknown reasons.
“The issue of the postponed Olympics hurts so much. We really want to participate in the Olympics,” Rachael Kundananji, the lethal women’s striker who also plays her trade at Kazakhstan side BIIK Kazygurt lamented.
Zambia’s women team secured a spot at the Olympics last March after trouncing much vaunted Cameroon 2-1 in Lusaka in the last leg to draw 4-4 on aggregate.
Earlier, health authorities had warned of possible rescheduling of games and other activities for fear of the effects of the COVID-19, which has claimed thousands of lives globally and infected several other multitudes as scientists and other experts struggle to find a vaccine.
According to Kundananji the Tokyo Olympics is an opportunity for the team to compete and test their mettle and that delays were a risk to the team’s organisation and plans to build cohesion. She is hopeful, the COVID-19 does not persist longer than it is perceived.
“We will have many opportunities as players if we participate in the Olympics. Going there will give us a good exposure. If we had gone to the Olympics many of the players would have been signed up by foreign clubs. Maybe no one will return home without being signed,”
Last March the Olympic Organising team sought to reschedule the games after the pandemic had hit over 100 countries, Africa included. The team sought to save the lives of the athletes after several meetings among countries and the organisers. However, the Olympic committee endorsed the decision.
Tokyo organising committee president, Yoshiro Mori was quoted by global media acknowledging the essence of the schedule in the preparations of the Games.
Mori said a Spring Olympics was considered but holding it later gives more space to complete the many qualifying events that have been postponed by the virus outbreak.
"We wanted to have more room for the athletes to qualify," Mori said.
The first postponement in Olympic history, though there were several cancellations during wartime. The Paralympics were rescheduled to August 24 to September 5, 2021.
However, Mori and CEO Toshiro Muto in March argued that the cost of rescheduling the Olympic Games will be "massive". Reports estimate billions of dollars - with most of the expenses borne by Japanese taxpayers.
The Olympic Games has had its share of misfortune, having been cancelled or postponed since the early 1900. In 1916, Berlin was set to host the Summer Games but the Winter Games did not begin until 1924.
These were cancelled because of the outbreak of World War I. The city later hosted the 1936 Olympics after Adolf Hitler had risen to power in Germany. Those Games would be the last for 12 years because of World War II.
Tokyo and Sapporo, Japan, were originally awarded the 1940 Winter and Summer Olympics, but the Japanese government pulled out after war broke out with China in 1937. The Winter Games were then awarded to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany and the Summer Games went to Helsinki, Finland. But the Olympics were cancelled altogether in 1939 after the Nazi invasion of Poland.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, was slated to host the 1944 Winter Games and London the Summer Games that year, but the ongoing war led to the cancellation of those events as well. Tokyo, Helinski, Cortina d’Ampezzo and London all hosted future Games.
In 2020, the postponement is based on a pandemic, not a war that is altering the Olympics schedule. “The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.” The IOC said in its statement released in March.