HARARE -Netball has never been so popular in Zimbabwe.
It has always been in the peripheries, an afterthought, widely regarded as a game for the girls to keep fit but certainly not to eke out a living from.
It has been always football, rugby and cricket.
Sometimes basketball, boxing and the like but never netball.
So much neglected that the senior national team couldn’t be awarded the much-deserved team of the year award for 2018 despite having sealed a World Cup berth, a far much significant achievement than the one attained by rowing team, which shockingly bagged that accolade.
Even their coach Lloyd Makunde could only play bridesmaid to the national Sevens Rugby mentor Gilbert Nyamutsamba in a development which shocked even the latter.
Netball structures have been there since the 1980s but no one has been caring to invest in this sport.
Quiet a substantive amount of talent went down the drain as potential breakthrough tournaments had to be cancelled as neither corporates or individuals could part with their resources supporting this code.
Of course, some individuals with that never-say die spirit came together to initiate the formation of the national league but at every turn there was this real threat of disbandment for obvious reasons.
For a country like Zimbabwe where businesses scramble to sponsor grassroots sports, of course with the exception of netball, this game could finally be heading for interesting times.
In fact, the game has suddenly become so popular and is one of the most talked about code in the country right now.
Thanks to the heroics of the national senior team, the Gems, who will be participating at the Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England, for their very first time in a fortnight.
Companies are falling over each other pouring various amounts to motivate the team.
A high-profile send-off dinner for the girls is on the cards.
Yet the England trip was at one point hanging in the balance as no sponsor could step up to support the cause.
Administrative politics didn’t help matters either, but all of a sudden the once ignored sport has become the talk of the town.
Even in the streets, children are making makeshift posts just to try and perfect their art.
Schools have developed academies and funding seem to be ready for such initiatives.
At one such school, St Thomas Aquinas in the Mashonaland East district of Wedza, Tinashe Muradza, a teacher has set up structures to develop young talent.
No corporate has yet partnered this particular initiative but negotiations with potential backers, according to Muradza are at an advanced stage.
Muradza has since 1992 been coaching netball at this school but has decided to professionalise it owing to the success of the national team.
“Like any other school we have been doing this sport but never on professional bases. We have seen a lot of talent being washed down the drain as after school there was no clear pathway for the girls to follow as the league was not that viable.
“But with the success of the national team, we have seen it fit to form an academy and we will soon be having a team in the national league as it is now lucrative to play the game,” said Muradza.
The national league has since secured sponsorship with the prize money almost double the national soccer league.
That the sponsorship came at the back of the success story written by the Gems speaks volumes about the goodwill the World Cup qualification has generated.
Zimbabwe Netball Association president Leticia Chipandu has expressed gratitude to the way the sport is now being handled.
“This sport has always been secondary. I am glad the girls managed to convince everyone in the country after attaining this global feat.
“We wish to see the game growing in the country and we build on this success story,” said Chipandu.
Uganda, South Africa and Malawi will join Zimbabwe from this continent at the World Cup where 16 countries battle for supremacy from July 12 to July 21.