THIS weekend will see most of the country’s top middle and long-distance athletes making their way to the eastern border city of Mutare to compete in the Tanganda Tea half-marathon.
The race bounces back tomorrow morning after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced all the sporting activities in this country to be frozen after it broke out at the beginning of 2020.
The prestigious Tanganda Tea Company’s yearly half-marathon beginnings can be traced back to the late 1980s and more than 1 000 middle and long-distance runners will rub shoulders in the undulating terrain of the eastern border city of Mutare when the exciting 21km road race bounces in the local athletics radar.
And among the more than 1 000 athletes who are expected to throng Mutare Sports Club tomorrow morning will be a number of athletes with a disability who will be taking part in the wheelchair category of this prestigious road race.
In fact, over the years, quite a good number of athletes or people with disabilities have featured regularly in local middle and long-distance races with Elford Moyo being a dominant force in the men’s wheelchair category.
Sports can be an important vehicle for the disabled to tackle social inclusion and Moyo, we understand, has over the years been fighting to make sport more accessible for the disabled and for them to be treated equally with their able-bodied counterparts.
Nurturing tolerance within diversity to attain social inclusion for people with disabilities can be achieved through informal activities in our daily lives, one of which is sports.
Sport is a universal language that plays the unique role of identity, values, and culture in breaking down the barriers for everyone.
Sport becomes an arena that drives positive change, fight hatred and bring peace, promote human rights, deepen inclusiveness, build a more tolerant and more cohesive society.
Sport can also be interpreted by people as an ideal means to foster inclusiveness and the well-being of people with disabilities, who face social barriers, including social stigma, negative perceptions, discrimination in education, work, and life in society.
And that is why today we salute wheelchair racing athlete Elford Moyo for his fight to have athletes with disabilities to be treated fairly in the local sporting arena, especially when it come to the distribution of the winners’ prize money.
Moyo has won numerous road races in his career and he is the most popular and the most decorated wheelchair racing athlete in this country but we doubt whether he has made some fortune from his countless podium place finishes he has claimed in these races.
It’s sad to note that athletes or people with disabilities here in Zimbabwe are treated as ‘’second class citizens’’ when it comes to getting some decent prize money after coming out tops in these road races and other sporting disciplines in which they compete with their able-bodied counterparts.
They are marginalised and they don’t usually get the same winning prize money which their able-bodied counterparts receive when they claim the top places on the podium.
People or athletes with disabilities are also looked down upon when they move around with their begging bowls looking for sponsorship ahead of major local and international competitions such as the Paralympic Games, the Special Olympics.
Upcoming female wheelchair racing athlete, Stellah Jongwe, recently expressed her disappointment over how the corporate world is reluctant to come to the rescue of the athletes with disabilities when they come forward looking for sponsorship ahead of some local and international sporting events.
Jongwe, who is slowly becoming a force to reckon with in the women’s category of wheelchair racing, last Sunday competed in the inaugural Mashwede Holdings Road Race in Harare where she emerged among the overall winners of this event and this weekend she will be heading out to Mutare to compete in the Tanganda Tea half-marathon.
And it’s not a secret that she was meeting all her expenses when preparing for this event.
Life could have been made much easier if a number of some ‘‘Good Samaritans’’ had chipped in with some decent sponsorship ahead of tomorrow’s race meeting in Mutare.
Athletes with disabilities, just like their able-bodied counterparts, also need some good diet and proper kit when they prepare for any sporting activity and if they can get some decent sponsorship, it will help them to up their game and help to win more medals or accolades for the country in major international events.
Destry Indra Wibawa of Indonesia, a Junior Policy Analyst in a government think-tank organisation and conducts research on the issues of disability and human rights in Indonesia, once observed that when people with disabilities participate in sports, they face two critical issues.
For starters, he said, participation in sports by people with disabilities is considered taboo in society.
‘‘Currently, sports are classified as masculine and hazardous, and they are thought to be performed solely by those with complete and strong biological bodies. People with disabilities are viewed as vulnerable subjects in activities involving physical exercise.
‘‘Harassment, social isolation, unpleasant comments and labelling, and encouraging the establishment of isolating policies or organisational processes are all examples of these activities.’’
So, it’s high time that we should break all these barriers and treat athletes or people with disabilities with respect in this country!