Dingilizwe Ntuli, Sports Editor
WHEN sport was suspended indefinitely as a result of the national lockdown which started in Zimbabwe on March 30, people somehow seemed more worried about foreign professional leagues such as the English Premier League and Uefa Champions League, which had to interrupt their activities on the homestretch.
These two competitions have a large following in Zimbabwe and many Zimbabweans therefore took to social media expressing diverse personal suggestions about their preferred solutions to the EPL title race.
The EPL resumed last week in empty stadiums and Liverpool, who were miles ahead of second-placed Manchester City when the league was abruptly halted, won the title after a 30-year wait, their first in the Premiership era.
The popular EPL, German Bundesliga and Spanish La Liga have all resumed without a live audience, and the Champions League is set to follow suit.
However, competitive sport remains grounded in Zimbabwe although some considered low risk due to their low contact nature such as cricket and tennis, among others, have been allowed to return to training.
Foreign professional leagues are well sponsored and clubs make more money from TV rights, sponsorship and endorsements, and were thus able to continue paying players during the long break.
Few Zimbabwean sports teams have meaningful sponsorship and the lockdown break just worsened their already a dire situation.
Football clubs were already struggling before Covid-19 struck and forced the lockdown, and now the state of affairs has worsened, particularly since the local Premiership was suspended before the 2020 season had started.
No action means little or no remuneration and some PSL and lower division players have gone for months without being paid. Most of those lucky to be paid are only getting a portion of their wages as clubs are struggling to remain afloat financially.
Only the total lifting of restrictions on sports will alleviate the situation some players find themselves in as clubs would at least be able to pay them something.
While the pitiful state of PSL clubs and players have been reported repeatedly, very little has been said about other sports such as basketball and it makes sad reading when Highlanders coach Theo Weale warns that some players may lose interest in the game due to the prolonged break.
Unlike football and cricket, which are fully professional sports and players are on a monthly salary, basketball is still a part time sport like many other sports in the country and people that play it do so for the love of the game.
Furthermore, basketball players and coaches pump in their own resources to sustain their respective clubs and leagues to keep the sport alive and themselves entertained with the hope that one day it will become a professional game should it strike a commercial breakthrough.
Weale cites inaction and boredom as reasons that might force some players to give up the game.
Some players may see no reason to continue practicing drills sent by coaches since they can’t implement them in a game situation.
That coaches also can’t monitor their progress could play a big factor in players slowly letting go of the game.
The unfortunate situation of not knowing when they’ll be allowed to play, is one of the biggest frustrations for any athlete, more so those that do it just to fulfil their passion for the game, like basketballers.
Three months is a long time for just drills and holding group discussions on WhatsApp groups without playing the game and players may feel that it’s better to try something more rewarding during the lockdown than to train daily and keep on hoping.
Psychologists have warned that fear and anxiety about Covid-19 could be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in some athletes.
They say this unusual free time, inactivity and lack of socialisation creates a sudden emptiness in athletes and these disappointments and uncertainties can cause anxiety, psychological distress and depression if they are not offered adequate support during the lockdown.
This lack of physical activity could induce a feeling of powerlessness and unusual behaviours such as insomnia, irritability, passivity or even eating disorders.
Because of the long lockdown period, most athletes have lost the physical condition they were in before the lockdown and this loss of previously acquired gain can force some players to quit the game they love in frustration.
Some players may even reflect on the bad experiences that soured them during the course of last season and convince themselves that it’s not worth the scars after such a long break since they simply took up the sport due to their passion.
So it’s not surprising that Weale is concerned that some basketball players may be losing interest in the game they genuinely love. It may not be their choice, but just that their passion has been extinguished by a whole combination of factors brought about by the prolonged lockdown.