The spectre of drugs in sport

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By Anesu Chakanetsa

“TAKAVA nerufaro muRufaro nekuda kwaRufaro.” 

That was an exclusive pun from the late President Robert Mugabe after Rufaro Muchingura played the tournament of her life in 2011.

She had scored a winner for the Mighty Warriors in the final against Banyana Banyana of South Africa in a tightly contested COSAFA cup final.

Sadly, in recent times, it’s a somber world, football-wise, contrary to what her beautiful Shona name means. 

Machingura passed away last week aged 30 after a long illness. The cause of her death was not revealed. 

Rufaro Machingura

Her career though was filled with controversy. 

She once kicked a referee for poor officiating and she openly admitted that she took drugs during an interview with The Herald last year.

(It has not been revealed that Machingura died of drug complications).

“I fell into the trap and my friends and my ‘hood’ (Mbare) contributed too. Whenever l would come back home from my club (Black Rhinos Queens), l would join in the ‘fun’ and engage in drugs with my friends. I felt it was the in-thing and failed to understand that l was a professional footballer and my friends were not,” Machingura told The Herald.

“We would get punished by the army but l ended up being stubborn and would go home, get high, come back to the club and get punished (again). It became a daily routine. 

I have lost so many opportunities in life. If you get high, once you sober up, you clearly reflect on your life and even regret it. My family has been supportive and whenever l visited my sister at her house, my brother-in-law (babamukuru) would switch to football channels on television and remind me that l could be that player playing and that l should leave drugs and revive my career.”  

And there are many other sportspeople losing lives and careers because of drugs. 

Outspoken Bulawayo Chiefs coach Philani ‘Beefy’ Ncube came out in the open saying 80 percent of Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League players are taking drugs, after a match they won 1-0 against Bulawayo giants Highlanders. 

Philani Ncube

He claimed that one of the Highlanders players was under the influence of drugs because of his behaviour on the pitch on that day. 

‘Beefy’ as he is affectionately known, was proved right on his assertions.

Former Harare City player Jerry Chipangura was sentenced to 14 months in prison by the Harare Magistrates Court after he was found in possession of 40g of methylenedioxymethamphetamine, popularly known as meth.

Meth, which is popular with many urban youths, is classified as a dangerous drug in Zimbabwe. 

His former teammate at Harare City, Nathan Ziwini, also appeared before the courts to answer charges of illegally dealing in drugs after he was found in possession of crystal meth worth US$10 000.

Then, in October last year, former Castle Lager Premiership footballer Devine Sena was allegedly found with two sachets of cocaine.

Sena was also charged for illegal possession of a firearm.

These are few examples of football players who were allegedly caught dabbling in drugs.

There could be more senior players dabbling in this dirty business. 

And the drug pandemic threatens our young sportpersons.

Even in the so-called elite communities, drugs have invaded different sporting disciplines.

That was the case with former Zimbabwe cricket captain Brendan Taylor who, in 2020, admitted to breaching four of the ICC Anti-Corruption Code and one charge of the ICC Anti-Doping Code.

Taylor had accepted a bribe of £11 200 (US$15 000/€13 400) to spot fix or influence matches that Zimbabwe were due to play against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in early 2020.

He also tested positive for a stimulant benzoylecognine, a cocaine metabolite, during an in-competition test conducted on September 8 2021, after Zimbabwe’s match against Ireland.

What is to be done to make Zimbabwe sport a drug-free environment?

Former Zimbabwe National Basketball Team and Harare City Hornets Star who is currently at Foxes Basketball Club, Nathan ‘Givas’ Warikandwa, says that teams should systematically manage their players such that they do not indulge in drug abuse.

“Teams should also introduce rules and regulations to their players, like regularly testing their players and introducing heavy punishment for those who indulge in these activities, starting from the grassroot development,” said Warikandwa. 

“There are also what we call team sociologists and psychologists who keep sportsmen and women busy with focusing on their future.”

Improvement is being noticed around Africa, with some football and basketball clubs hiring specialised personnel to deal with players’ shortfalls on issues like diet and social life which include discipline and drugs. 

Warikandwa also added that players should get enough remuneration, something which could reduce drug abuse by sportsmen and women.

“Sport is not being taken seriously in Zimbabwe. Some sport codes are not yet taken professionally, so there is not enough remuneration and a lot of youths, who make the majority of those taking part in sport, take part in drugs to escape reality,” he said.

“Sportspeople should get paid handsomely so that all these problems go away.” 

In football, some division two clubs are hardly paying their players while others in Division One and PSL are struggling to timely pay their players.

Some youths have lost hope in sporting disciplines like netball, basketball, volleyball and athletics, among others.

They have turned to drugs which are readily and cheaply available.

It is not surprising that these drugs are trafficked into the country nicodemously by the West trying destroy young African mindsets. 

Maybe that is a story for another day.

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