Tadious Manyepo

Sports Reporter

THE global partnership between Athletes Sports Management and Real Betis Academy was launched at a colourful ceremony in Harare last night with stakeholders confident the project will transform Zimbabwe football.

The grand function was graced by Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, Kirsty Coventry, Sports and Recreation Commission chairman, Gerald Mlotshwa, and director general, Prince Mupazviriho, as well as football legends, including Sunday Chidzambwa.

The Real Betis coaches, who are under the leadership of Murape Murape, were also unveiled at the function.

They are Philemon Mutyakureva, Tichaona Dhiya, Gift Lunga Junior and Johannes Ngodzo.

Vice President, Kembo Mohadi, hailed the partnership.

“The Government applauds this milestone achievement in Zimbabwe,” he said in a speech read by the Minister of State in his office, Davis Marapira.

“The academy set by Real Betis is expected to transform grassroots football.

“This is in line with the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Art and Recreation to transform sport from the grassroots.

“As Government, we welcome this initiative.

“The Government of Zimbabwe seeks to promote tourism through sport. I formally welcome you to Zimbabwe, which will be your home, away from home.

“The academy will go a long way in promoting the brand Zimbabwe.’’

Spain ambassador to Zimbabwe, Santiago Gomez, also hailed the landmark partnership.

“This is an exceptional day for both Zimbabwe and Spain. As Spain, we consider Zimbabwe as our friend,” he said.

“This project fits perfectly in Spain’s policy of engaging Africa.

“Football is big business and we have to work together to make this ideal project a success.

“This is a promising partnership and I am sure it will live to its billing.

“The future is always there, always waiting especially for sport.

“We are satisfied that this is taking place and we are convinced that it will go a long way in improving, not only our ties between Spain and Zimbabwe, but the game itself.

“We are convinced that this partnership will help improve closer ties we already enjoy. It’s looking promising.”

La Liga managing director for Africa, Marcos Pelegrin, said this was the dawn of a new era.

“This is only the beginning. The partnership will help transform the Zimbabwean football landscape,” he said.

“Football is a billion dollar industry and in Spain it contributes significantly to the country’s GDP.  “We are happy for this project and this will help both Zimbabwe and Spain improve in terms of the game.

“Real Betis Football Club has done a great job in establishing an academy in Zimbabwe. We know the passion which Zimbabweans possess.

“Grassroots football development is the way to go and we are very much happy to be part of this great initiative.”

Coventry saluted the Spanish team for choosing to establish their nursery in Zimbabwe.

“It is heartening to note that out of all the countries, you have chosen us in Africa,” said Coventry.

“We are hopeful that this initiative will go a long way in transforming Zimbabwean football.

South Africa’s ambassador to Zimbabwe Mphakama Mbete, and other high-ranking officials, attended the launch.

Athletes Sports Management, through their director Gerald Sibanda, a Sables and Cheetahs legend, are signed the deal with Real Betis.

The nursery, which will take on board players between the ages of 8 and 18, will be overseen by Real Betis technical director, Juan Parra, who is scheduled to come and work in Zimbabwe early next year.

“I think we have talked a lot about the Real Betis Academy in Zimbabwe. It is now the time for it to become reality,’’ Sibanda said this week.

“The coming in of Pelegrin, himself, is confirmation of the magnitude of the development.

“Besides sports tourism, we, at Athletes Sphere Management, believe that football has the potential to transform, not only individuals, but the economy at large.

“The academy of this magnitude, with top-notch expertise will, obviously, produce great players who the country will export.

“It is high time we start taking sport seriously as it has the potential to transform us for the better.

“The coming in of Pelegrin, and other officials, will obviously create key developments in terms of strategic partnerships and, the fact that there will be top officials from the Government, also means that there is great potential for everything.

“Ultimately, Real Betis will have its footprint across the African continent, starting of course, with Southern Africa.

“It’s only a matter of time but, two years from now, we will be talking about even greater developments in terms of the game.”