A sign for success? Zimbabwean snooker players go for it

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Highlights from the World Cup and other sporting events are shown on widescreen televisions in Ruwa, on the outskirts of the Zimbabwean capital Harare. But all eyes are on the pool table…and the money.

Among them is the 18-year-old Levite Chisakarire.

“I have to take the money home… there’s a lot of money today,” he said, holding up a pool cue and waiting for his next opponent.

At stake is a first prize of $150, a princely sum in a country where the majority earn just over $100 a month, according to official government figures, and about half of the country’s 15 million people live in extreme poverty. according to the World Food Program.

“You can go a long way to pay the bills,” said youthful Chisakarire, the youngest player up for the day’s award.

Once a minority sport played in Zimbabwe’s wealthier neighborhoods, billiards has grown in popularity over the years, first as a hobby and now as a means of survival for many in a country where part-time jobs are hard to come by. complete.

Unable to continue her education after finishing secondary school with low grades in 2019, Chisakaire struggled to find a job in Zimbabwe’s stressed industries. The COVID-19 outbreak meant that her father, a trucker, lost his regular job. So Chisakarire began frequenting an illegal tavern where patrons dodged or bribed police to bypass pandemic restrictions so they could drink beer and play pool.

His hobby turned into a skill and he showed a talent for shooting the round balls into the pockets. He soon helped solve his financial problems when he started betting on his games and winning. These days he makes about $300 in a good month playing pool, he says.

He’s not the only one. Most Zimbabweans make a living from informal activities, including selling tomatoes at roadside stalls and also playing billiards, according to an October employment survey by the country’s statistics agency. Approximately half of young people between the ages of 15 and 34 are unemployed and not participating in education or training.

Some, like Chisakarire, make a living at pool tables.

“Snooker became popular as a form of entertainment in bars, but is now proving more popular than football in many places,” said Michael Kariati, a veteran Zimbabwean sports journalist of more than 30 years. “It has become a fiercely competitive sport with people placing bets and surviving.”

In Harare alone, the number of professional players has quadrupled to about 800 in the last five years, according to Keith Goto, spokesman for the Harare Professional Pools Association.

“Then there are the cash games that have grown exponentially. You find pool tables everywhere you go in the townships,” she said. “It is offering a form of employment and it is being paid through gambling.”

Others warn that gambling is a dangerous habit that can have a disastrous impact on families. But with so many people out of work and Zimbabwe’s dire economic outlook, many people are desperately struggling to make money with a pool cue.

Makeshift pool arcades flourish in bars, storefront terraces, and almost any open space. Some enterprising residents have pool tables in their homes where they charge people 50 cents to play and gamble in violation of city laws that require such businesses to be properly licensed. The tables are often worn and wobbly but people don’t seem to care.

In Warren Park, a Harare township, people ignored the country’s biggest local football derby at the country’s biggest stadium nearby to congregate around pool tables where money was rapidly changing hands.

To get quick money, betting requires ingenious means. Instead of playing the entire game of eight ball, some bet on the position of the black eight ball after the first shot of the game, also called the break. Others clear the best of three balls. A skilled player offered to play one hand because people were too hesitant to bet against him.

The authorities sometimes carry out so-called clean-up operations to confiscate pool tables scattered everywhere. Often, city charter enforcers are simply paid a bribe as little as $2 to look the other way. Most gamblers in low-income municipalities place dollar bets on games that can win $3 or $4.

In Ruwa, the competition is more organized and the stakes are higher. Each club member paid a $10 participation fee, which went towards prize money. On a recent day, 31 players paid to participate. Dozens more were spectators, cheering and betting on their favorite players.

“Imagine taking home $150! That’s more than many people in gainful employment receive per month,” said Goto, the spokesperson. “Snooker should now move from bars to schools and community halls like other sports, after all, it has gone mainstream.”

For 18-year-old Chisakarire, billiards has become more than just a game. After gambling and gambling in backyard taverns, she dreams big.

“It’s changed my life,” he said, before sinking his next ball to win the tournament and pocket $150. “I see myself playing in Europe one day.”

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