BY HENRY MHARA
THE Warriors will play their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Group H qualifier against Algeria in South Africa next month, following the decision by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) to ban all stadiums in Zimbabwe which have been declared unfit to host international matches.
Zimbabwe is due to host the African champions at the end of March, but with all local stadiums declared unsuitable for high-profile matches, the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) has been forced to look for alternative venues outside the country’s borders.
Neighbours South Africa and Zambia, which boast world-class stadiums and other sporting facilities are obvious choices for Zifa to pick as their new “homes”.
The association is expected to forward the names of the alternative venues to Caf today.
Zifa spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela said the decision on where the Warriors would play their match against Algeria has not been made, but sources in the association’s executive board yesterday told NewsDay Sport that the game will be played in Johannesburg.
“We are considering South Africa, and by tomorrow, we should be in the know,” a source said yesterday.
“But that is what we are going to do. They have many stadiums, but we are looking for a proper venue probably in Johannesburg because of issues like connectivity. It would be easier for the team. We are considering that there is a bigger population of Zimbabweans in that city. We want to try and be home away from home.”
Another executive member said: “If we agree as the executive I think next week we will be sending a team to South Africa to do the ground work. The team will go and probably look for a ticketing partner and look for a marketing company to start marketing the matches and look into the issues of match rights. We are not sure of the levies that they charge for using their stadiums, but if we market the game and do other things properly, we can even make some money.”
After the Algeria match, Zimbabwe is also expected to host Zambia in another Group H match later this year.
The 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers are also starting in September and there are fears that the local football facilities would not have been renovated to meet the Caf standards by then.
The Young Warriors, the senior women’s national football team and its junior teams also have matches this year and they will all be forced to play at neutral venues.
FC Platinum and Highlanders, who are set to participate in Caf club competitions this year, are also going to be affected by the ban.
A source, however, said the two clubs might be given a reprieve as Caf might allow Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo to continue hosting its club competitions.
“We don’t see our facilities going to be fixed anytime soon. We have been pestering the government through the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) on the Caf requirements, but nothing was done. The movement only started yesterday, albeit late,” another Zifa official said.
Besides Barbourfields, other stadiums that used to host the national teams are Rufaro and the National Sports Stadium in Harare, which are also dilapidated due to neglect by their owners.
Government owns the National Sports Stadium, while Barbourfields and Rufaro are owned by the Bulawayo and Harare city councils, respectively.
Zifa said they were engaging Caf with a view to appealing the ban but will need to get a commitment first from the owners of the stadiums that they will refurbish their facilities.
“Tomorrow (today) we are giving Caf the name of our alternative venue,” a Zifa official said.
“We also have an option to appeal, but we can only try that route if we are given a commitment by the owners of the facilities. Even if we are going to appeal, one thing that we are definitely going to do is to give them an alternative venue. That is a directive that we must adhere to. They will consider our appeal, but with the alternative venue in place.
“If these guys do not give us a commitment, we will not even waste our time because we cannot appeal for a wrong thing. We can only appeal if we see that something is happening on the ground.”
The SRC, officials from the Local Government ministry and Zifa were set to meet yesterday to deliberate on the way forward.