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Hope for local football return



THERE might be light at the end of the tunnel for local football return after the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) yesterday revealed that “high level” negotiations were taking place for the resumption of the local game.

Football was excluded from a list of the sport codes that were given the greenlight by the government last week to resume activities.

Forty-eight “low risk” sport codes including cricket were approved to resume their activities but under strict COVID-19 protocols and taking into account national and World Health Organisation guidelines.

The exclusion of football and rugby, two sport codes which are very popular with the locals, caused a huge outcry.

However, it appears that football could be given a go-ahead to resume soon. Local football has been in limbo since last year when government banned all local sporting activities as a way to control the spread of COVID-19.

“The resumption of all sport, and football in particular, is a matter that is still under consideration. Extensive engagements and consultations are underway for a sustainable solution to the matter,” SRC acting director-general Sebastian Garikai said yesterday.

Zifa applied to government through SRC a month ago hoping the game would be allowed to return this month.

But it appears the association’s application failed to meet the COVID-19 protocols as demanded.

The SRC boss said applications for the resumption of sport were handled by a COVID-19 special board, which assesses applications for the safe resumption of sports at first instance before submitting recommendations to the Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation ministry which then consults with other ministries, including Health and Child Care ministry, to make a decision on the matter.

Zifa vice-president Phillemon Machana said he was not in a position to comment on the future of the game.

Premier Soccer League action had been expected to start in December last year after the ministry approved its return under a secure bio-bubble concept, starting with a mini-league tournament.

However, disagreements over funding of the tournament, believed to be around US$1 million, emerged with Zifa distancing itself from financing the tournament.

Although the football mother body agreed in principle to lead the safe return of the game, it said it would confine itself to only funding the testing of players and payment of referees

On the other hand, despite greenlighting the resumption of football under strict COVID-19 regulations, government, through the SRC, refused to commit itself to funding the tournament, saying Zifa and its affiliates should foot the whole bill.

This stalled the process at the time before another COVID-19 wave struck again at the start of this year, with the government extending the lockdown to end of last month.

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