By GRACE CHIRUMANZU
Zimbabwe senior women football team, Mighty Warriors, carved their name in the annals of sporting history in their country with their qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics this year.
The Mighty Warriors drew 2-all with Cameroon in the last round of the qualifiers to book their ticket to Rio by virtue of the away goals’ rule. Their qualification saw them become the first football team to qualify for an international showpiece and the second team sport to represent their nation at the Olympics after the women’s hockey team in 1980.
Striker Rudo Neshamba who provided Zimbabwe’s solitary goal at home was emotional describing the qualification as something the team always wanted.
“This is what many teams in Africa have long dreamed of, but never achieved. I can’t quite explain how I’m feeling at the moment. This means so much to the team and our supporters, we are really excited,” she said.
Indeed such a great achievement was something the Mighty Warriors were always hungry for but the bankruptcy of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) was always there to haunt them. Where there were meagre funds to sponsor both the men and women teams, the women’s team was sacrificed.
In the penultimate round of qualifiers, the Mighty Warriors failed to travel to Cote D’Ivoire for their first leg match that was scheduled in Abidjan.
ZIFA failed to raise the $34 000 that was required to fly the girls to Abidjan and the broke association ended up paying a $10 000 fine for their withdrawal according to the Section 7 Article 5 of the Olympic Football tournament Games of the XXXI Olympiad Rio de Janeiro 2016.
The regulation, which deals with withdrawals of associations, says that: “Any association that withdraws after the start of the preliminary competition shall be fined CHF10 000 (US$10 401).
However, the heavens smiled on the success hungry Mighty Warriors following Ivory Coast’s withdrawal from the qualifiers and with the second-leg match of that third round cancelled in Harare, the Zimbabweans had the chance to play Cameroon in the final round of the qualifiers.
It has been a long journey for the young women in football in Zimbabwe, but their perseverance continue to see them on the rise and they can only hope their performance in Rio, win or lose, will win them the hearts of most football followers in Zimbabwe who have for long only invested their faith in the men’s teams