7-time Olympic medalist Kirsty Coventry, 39, was re-appointed as the Sports Minister of Zimbabwe earlier this month. She has held the role since September 2018 and faced a significant challenge after accusations of being ineffective in the role, punctuated by conflict with the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA).
The ZIFA was suspended by global governing body FIFA in 2022 because of accusations that staff sexually harassed female referees and that the organization had ‘financial irregularities.’
Coventry told Zimbabwe’s parliament that ZIFA misappropriated part of $2 million in federal funding and that some officials were suspended for sexual harassment, but members of the ZIFA board accused her of lying.
FIFA eventually established a Normalization Committee to run ZIFA until June 2024.
Coventry was re-appointed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa as the Minister for Sports, Art and Recreation after Mnangagwa won a contentious and chaotic election dominated by debate over the economy and inflation and shrouded by accusations of election fraud. Mnangawa was elected to the first of two allowabale five year terms in 2017. He is the country’s third president since gaining independence from the UK in 1980.
Zimbabwe sent only five athletes to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, earning no medals for the third straight Games. That was a dramatic decrease from the 31 athletes sent to the Rio 2016 Games and the country’s smallest delegation to a Summer Games since Amsterdam in 1928 (2).
Coventry, who won the 200 back at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, is responsible for all-but-one of the country’s Olympic medals all-time; the other was a gold medal in field hockey at the 1980 Olympics.
In spite of Coventry’s success and her role as sporting minister, the sport of swimming hasn’t seen much development in the country since her retirement. Zimbabwe’s two 2021 Olympians in swimming were Peter Wetzlar, who placed 42nd in the 100 free (50.31), and Donata Katai, who placed 34th in the 100 backstroke (1:02.73).
Wetzlar was raised in South Africa and trained in the United States at the University of Kentucky. Katai, the country’s flag bearer at those games, was born in Zimbabwe and raised there before matriculating to Princeton University in the United States. Katai was the first Black swimmer to represent Zimbabwe at the Olympics in a country where more than 99% of the population is of African origin.