The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on almost every industry. In Zimbabwe, sports bettors are feeling the effect of cancelled events especially hard.
As COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continues to sweep the world in a global pandemic, Zimbabweans are feeling the pinch. The country has very few confirmed cases of the virus so far, but the suspension of sports events in other countries has had a substantial impact on its gambling industry.
Gambling Industry’s Economic Potential
As Zimbabwe struggles to recover from the years of economic devastation it suffered under then-President Robert Mugabe, its gambling industry has become a beacon of hope. In some parts of the nation it now operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Domestic online casino and sportsbook operators are not yet permitted, although there is hope that relatively soon, they will be.
For now, many citizens’ only income is the money they make betting and winning on matches and races. Land-based operators also provide important jobs and tax revenue in a country where independent economists estimate the unemployment rate to be around 85%. However, as COVID-19 forces the postponement or even cancellation of sporting events, these revenue streams are in jeopardy.
International Sports Suspensions
The suspension of sports tournaments and competitions, including the National Basketball Association, Premier League, National Football League and even the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, is an unfortunate but necessary measure.
Health care workers are still learning about the novel coronavirus, but what is known is that it can be spread when people are asymptomatic, it can survive on surfaces for hours, and its effect on the human body is potentially devastating.
With that in mind, governments have taken steps to ban large gathering and sports and entertainment authorities are following their lead. In addition to high-profile sporting events, music festivals and performances have been cancelled in an effort to curtail the growing pandemic.
Awaiting a Solution
Understandable as all these measures are, they still have a significant impact on the livelihood and lifestyle of many Zimbabweans. Julius Mbeve says he has been earning $150 to $200 per month betting on major European and South African Football leagues, for the past five years. This money has allowed the 45-year-old to get by. Similarly, 35-year-old Farari Chitengwa’s only earnings are from Soccer betting.
Currently they can’t generate income this way, and Mbeve says that though he considers the sports bans noble, his quality of life has decreased dramatically. Even in the months when he didn’t take home many payouts, Mbeve says, betting on Soccer kept the community spirit alive. Both Mbeve and Chitengwa were speaking to Voice of America when they made these comments. All they can hope for now is that a solution to the pandemic comes soon.
Government Called On To Do More
Independent analyst Trust Chikohora also spoke to Voice of America and said that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government needs to act urgently to ensure the fragile Zimbabwean economy is not further damaged by COVID-19.
Pan-African institutions like African Export-Import Bank, along with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international bodies, need to provide assistance to African governments during the pandemic, Chikohora continued. These funds could then be provided to businesses and citizens to provide some financial relief.
The economic fallout will not only be felt in the sportsbook industry or by individual bettors, but also in almost every other business sector. As companies close because they can’t survive weeks without revenue, they will have to let people go.
The unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is expected to climb even higher, reducing the country’s collective spending power and causing further loss of revenue. To help break the cycle, government authorities need to act as swiftly and decisively as possible – in Zimbabwe and in the rest of the world.