ZIMBABWE’S Premier Soccer League players have taken the sharpest knock from the profound effects of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, compounded by the relentless economic turbulence obtaining in the country and have been plunged into poverty.
BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
It has emerged that the majority of the most celebrated football heroes are earning much less than US$20 ($2 000) per month.
House help and gardeners earn about US$30 and while others rival the highest paid footballers taking home about US$50 ($5 000) a month which is still way below that of teachers — who are themselves on strike and are demanding 10 times that amount.
With the entry point for a teacher at $11 000, this means some of the Zimbabwean footballers are not even earning half of what striking teachers are getting.
This is despite the fact that the total consumption poverty line for an average household of five persons currently stands at about $18 000 according to Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.
George Deda, who represents several Zimbabwean players revealed that home-based players had been reduced to destitutes due to the cumulative effects of COVID-19 and the general poor performance of the economy that has led to the drying up of sponsorship.
While players usually complement their salaries with winning and draw bonuses, the situation has become dire for footballers whose league is yet to resume since the country lockdown imposed in March.
Deda said he has been inundated with calls by several players seeking to leave for better pastures even in less competitive leagues like Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho where their talents are on demand and stand to get paid better.
However, they remain confined to the walls of Zimbabwe, struggling to wriggle themselves out of their situation because of lockdown measures.
“I can tell you the situation is very bad for players in Zimbabwe right now. On average they are on US$20 salaries or $2 000. The highest paid earn about US$50 or $5 000,” he said.
“The challenge is that there has not been any football activity since March when the lockdown was imposed and clubs are struggling because there is no revenue coming in. Several players have been coming to me of late asking me to facilitate their moves to even less competitive leagues in Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho where Zimbabwean talent is on demand. There salaries range between US$500 and US$1 000 and they are desperate to go there but because of COVID-19 restrictions, there has not been movement of players.”
Deda argued that clubs cannot be blamed for the low remuneration as there is nothing coming into their coffers due to inactivity.
“You can’t blame clubs for their predicament because there is no football action and sponsors can’t partner them when there is nothing on the ground that guarantees returns. We continue to pray that football resume soon but as we speak the situation is very bad for them and the poor performance of our economy has worsened the situation,” he said.
“The challenge with player contracts is that they sign long-term contracts and unlike employees in other sectors their contracts are not reviewed quarterly. But when they signed in 2019 it was okay but now they have been eroded by inflation.”
While football action has resumed in other countries, the situation is different in Zimbabwe where the authorities have proposed a phased approach with a bio-bubble concept where teams would play in a two-week tournament while isolated from the outside world.
That concept has proved to be beyond the reach of football stakeholders with both government and Zifa clashing over who will foot the costs of running what will effectively be a pre-season tournament. It now appears highly unlikely that football will resume any time soon as envisaged.