ALTHOUGH Zimbabwe’s football authorities remain hopeful of the resumption of football this year, the continued spike in COVID-19 infections as well as the poor drainage at the country’s stadia as we approach the rainy season are the major grounds of concern.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Zimbabwe had reached 1 713 with 26 deaths by Monday, with more than half the cases being local transmissions.
With the country’s major cities Harare and Bulawayo, the worst affected, it would be irresponsible for Zifa and other football stakeholders to hurriedly bring back football under the circumstances.
There is need for authorities to consider that football activities are secondary to the life and well-being of citizens. Understandably, football clubs in Zimbabwe have been struggling to pay playing staff since the national lockdown was imposed in March to curb the spread of the pandemic, but the resumption of football does not guarantee revenue generation to mitigate the burden considering that matches will be played in empty stadiums.
It is against this background that authorities should consider bringing back football when the conditions are right to do so.
The most damning character of human behaviour is the inability to learn from history. Neighbours Zambia, whose football activities were also suspended in March, returned to action at the weekend but there was chaos as some players tested positive for COVID-19.
Former Dynamos striker Evans Katema had been named in the Zanaco starting line-up for the first match on Saturday at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola, but authorities were forced to call off the match at the last minute after 28 members of the Forest Rangers squad tested positive for COVID-19.
And later on Sunday, two players each from Zesco United and Power Dynamos tested positive in overnight testing conducted by health officials following Saturday’s chaos and had to be quarantined.
Others might argue that football has returned in some leagues in the world so we should do the same, but it’s important to remember that circumstances are different. Those leagues where football action has restarted want to mitigate the losses from the suspension of the game due to the pandemic, but it’s not the same with us especially in Zimbabwe, where our football relies mainly on gate takings rather than broadcast rights.
Zifa have set up a medical committee that has been tasked with working out the best way towards what they believe would be a safe return to football.
However, even if football resumes in September as the authorities envisage, how feasible will that be considering the pathetic state of the country’s stadia?
It’s important for football authorities to broaden their scope when considering the return of football in this new era of the pandemic.