START, stop, start, stop!This has been the tragedy of the Cosafa Senior Men’s Challenge since the first competition was played in 1997 and won by Zambia.
Between 1997 and 2009, where Zimbabwe won on home soil, the competition ran smoothly with a number of sponsors, in particular South African Breweries (SAB Miller) through their Castle Lager brand being the headline sponsor.
A number of players, including Warriors legend and now Mamelodi Sundowns manager Peter Ndlovu, played in the tournament and scored seven times.
Tauya Murehwa, Shepherd Muradzikwa, the late Benjamin Nkonjera and Luke Petros are some of the notable Warriors from the early years of the competition before the likes of Cephas Chimedza, Cuthbert Malajila and Ronald Gidiza Sibanda hogged the limelight.
Angola produced the famous Fabrice Akwa and Betinho, Mozambique had Adelino, Zambia had Collins Mbesuma and Rotson Kilambe, while South Africa had the likes of Delron Buckley, Tebogo Mokoena and Patrick Mayo.
Even little Mauritius had Phillip Zialor, while Botswana had Jerome Ramatlhakwane emerging as the top goalscorer in Zambia last year with four goals.
So, with all these names having been graced the event, it was with sadness that in 2010, 2011 and 2012 the tournament could not take place due to a myriad of problems, mainly sponsorship before Castle Lager came aboard again last year.
This was a time of celebration for the region and it was thought the body, under president Suketu Patel, would build on the Zambian success and make things happen again this year.
And they were on course.
Zimbabwe were the initial hosts, but pulled out and then Botswana did the same.
Patel and his team should have seen this coming. Zimbabwe are the hosts of the Africa Union Region Five Games in Bulawayo in December, while Botswana hosted the Africa Youth Games in May and budgetary constraints could not allow another tournament in either of the countries.
Frantic efforts to get South Africa to host was too late — the Absa Premiership is at its busiest in December and there are no available free dates.
This exactly what Patel should have foreseen — the Africa Cup of Nations was changed from even years to odd to avoid clashing with the World Cup — the reason we had the Afcon finals in 2012 and 2013 and starting today, the qualifiers for the 2015 finals.
Southern African countries will be taking part in the 2016 Rio Olympics qualifiers and this year, regional competition was going to give the Under-23s enough time to gauge their preparedness and come up with the best possible teams for the qualifiers.
But, alas, the bad news was delivered on Wednesday.
“The Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) regrets to announce that despite best efforts, the 2014 Cosafa Cup will not take place this year.
“Cosafa had formally sought approval of the South African Football Association (Safa) for the tournament to be staged in their territory, at no cost to Safa; but as we have failed to receive the requisite permission from Safa, who cited the non-availability of dates in November/December from the PSL as the reason, Cosafa is forced to cancel the event.
“It comes as a huge disappointment to the region as a commercial sponsor was in place for the 2014, 2016 and 2018 event, but their participation was contingent on the tournament being played in South Africa due to existing high standard of playing and broadcast infrastructure in the country.”
Patel said they were now working on securing a sponsor for next year’s edition.
“The Cosafa Cup plays a crucial role in helping develop the national teams of member associations and this year would have been of huge benefit as they prepare for qualifiers for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. No one is more disappointed than I, but now we can only work even harder and look forward towards the hosting and sponsorship for the 2015 tournament.”
This is not the kind of news that countries in the region were waiting for and hopefully, 2015 will return and give birth to future stars, so that we promote the Under-20 and 23 players into senior teams via the tournament by having them spar with the best in the region.
No doubt the sponsors are in South Africa where a government guarantee is always in place for such mega events.
Zambia in concentrating on the Afcon 2019 bid, Botswana is not yet ready in terms of infrastructure while Angola, with all their stadiums in place, is probably the most expensive country in the region.