Football and cricket a 'top priority' for Zim sports minister Kirsty Coventry

Kirsty Coventry carried the Zimbabwe flag during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, her fifth and final appearance at the Games. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Kirsty Coventry, Africa's most decorated Olympian and now Zimbabwe Minister of Sport, Arts, Youth, and Recreation, intends to hit the ground running as she plans a wide-ranging assessment of her political portfolios.

Coventry, now 34, competed in five Olympic Games, including 2016 in Rio, and claimed two gold medals, four silvers and a bronze in an illustrious swimming career, before turning her attention to politics.

Zimbabwe's 'Golden Girl' was named to her parliamentary post last Friday, and has the experience of being chair of the International Olympic Committee's Athletes Commission to draw upon, among a number of roles she has filled at the global body.

The former swimmer will now turn that experience into finding a platform to develop a new generation of sports stars and artists in the country, but admits her appointment by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to his cabinet did come a little bit out of left field.

"I had heard a few rumours that my name might be under consideration and I know that the President was really taking his time, doing his research and reaching out to international people to discuss the candidates," Coventry tells KweséESPN.

"Then we heard the announcement and it was a huge honour. The first few minutes was a bit like, 'oh my goodness', but then excitement and the potential of what could be achieved kicked in."

Being in government is different to sports administration in that the major aim is to create economic opportunity, jobs, and improve the living standards of ordinary people.

Sport certainly has the potential to do that, but Coventry must also assess her other portfolios that include the arts and the upliftment of youth.

"It is a big portfolio," she admits. "I will spend the next while getting debriefed on the different departments and sit with the advisors, athletes, artists and listen to the youth to come up with as strategy and a way forward to increase the platforms we have in those sectors."

Two of the major sports in the country, football and cricket, have endured numerous financial and administrative problems in the past and Coventry says understanding their particular issues will be a priority of hers.

"I am actually going to be meeting with all the different federations in the next few weeks, but football and cricket are at the top of the list," she says.

"I know from an outsider's perspective, looking in, what has been happening, but I want to give the opportunities to federations to explain their particular challenges so we can work together.

"But beyond that, as I said, I will also be talking to athletes and coaches as well to get their perspective and a clearer picture for myself so that it does not all come from one side.

"For me that is the best way to figure out what is the best way to go forward."

Aside from Coventry's achievements, Zimbabwe has only one other Olympic medal, a gold picked up by the women's hockey team at the 1980 games in Moscow.

She believes the potential is definitely there for more, adding: "We can achieve more, I firmly believe that.

"There is no easy answer as to how, but the obvious first step is to provide facilities and access to sporting codes to boost our chances. That is something we will be working hard on in the future.

"This is a great country with a lot of potential and my job is to try and unlock that for our people."