BMX in Zimbabwe is facing an uncertain future after a recent decision by the land owners of the Harare BMX Club to sell the property.
The track was first built at its current location − then part of Old Georgian’s Sports Club (OG’s) − in 1985, and has been rebuilt several times to keep it up to date with international standards. Ownership shifted in 2002 when OG’s needed funds and a group from the BMX club formed a company, Turfan Investments, and purchased the land for $50,000. But as the children of these shareholders have stopped riding BMX, Turfan’s interest in safeguarding the land for the wellbeing of BMX has dwindled. In the face of Zimbabwe’s economic woes and an offer of $450,000 for the land, they have decided to sell.
Harare BMX Club chairman Sean Drysdale concedes that, “Whilst we might object, [Turfan] is entitled to do what they want with it. So we decided that our best bet was to try and find another location and be prepared to move out. We assume that [the new owner] will not want to leave it as a BMX track.” The land is zoned for recreational use, however, and a new owner is likely to face objections to rezoning from OG’s and neighbouring residents.
But even if a new site is found, Harare BMX Club faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding, at a cost of $100,000, by Drysdale’s estimates, which it doesn’t have. Hundreds of tonnes of dirt will need to be moved, lights erected, a borehole drilled, a pneumatic start-gate installed, and storage built.
Despite the gloomy outlook, Drysdale remains cautiously optimistic, and recognises that it may be an opportunity for the club to reinvent itself: “Moving to a new site would give us a chance to say right, what does this club exist for? What is its purpose?”
For many years the club has focused on getting riders to the World Championships, which it has done with some success: 51 Zimbabweans have made it into the final eight in their classes. But this has increasingly alienated newcomers to the sport, who are intimidated by the huge jumps and expensive bikes.
BMX globally is more competitive than ever, thanks to its inclusion in the Olympics since 2008. But Drysdale emphasises that Zimbabwe can’t prepare a BMXer to challenge for a medal with the level of competition we have locally. Our best hope would be to grow the sport among our youngsters, and send our best prospects to South Africa − the only other African country that does BMX − or, ideally, overseas to train and race in Europe or the USA.
And so Drysdale’s biggest goal, after securing a track, is to rid the sport of its elitist image and recruit a broad base of new riders: “There’s no reason why it needs to be an expensive sport. That’s something we as a club have got to address, to try and make it more of a common-man sport, where kids can come along in their jeans and rugby shirt and just ride their bike.”
As well as the club’s 30 paying members, it has 12 development riders from Mabvuku. But Drysdale’s vision extends deep into communities elsewhere too, starting with the track’s immediate vicinity. He wants to get schools on board, and mini tracks built countrywide. He cites the “stranglehold that schools have on kids and their sporting activities” as one big obstacle, but is hopeful that more and more people will start seeing the value that BMX can add to riders’ lives.
“People don’t appreciate what it does for kids − the confidence it gives them. They learn how to win, how to lose, how to fall and how to get back up again. There are so few opportunities for kids now. You can’t fall off a Pokémon machine, can you?”
Contact Harare BMX Club chairman Sean Drysdale on 0772 948 875 or Email: [email protected].
Image: Tyla-Shae Donaldson and Graeme du Plooy practice gate starts.