HomeSportZifa suspension: Throwing away the baby with the bath-water

Zifa suspension: Throwing away the baby with the bath-water

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By Richard Chidza
Anger is like a fire and rather than assisting resolve issues normally burns everything in its wake. The kneejerk reaction by the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) to suspend the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) executive committee last week will have far-reaching ramifications for the national game.

The SRC argues its decision was for the good of the game and aimed at bringing sanity to football but a few days later, the inspiration behind this could have been exposed by a freak force of nature following a downpour during a Chibuku Super Cup match at the National Sports Stadium. The country’s foremost football pitch looked like an extension of Kariba Dam without the generators. The SRC is in charge of sports infrastructure in the country.

They have argued that Zifa has failed to put in place youth structures, failed to bring equity between the senior men’s and women’s football teams in terms of allowances and related issues. Fair comment if you ask me. But where were the kids going to play the football?

For starters, it has been reported that the SRC has in the past three years extended only US$53 000 to Zifa. Enough to cover allowances for just two Warriors players at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations edition. Done!

Now compare this with the Ghana Football Association which is being assisted by the government to pay US$45 000 monthly for the national team coach’s salary. The Black Stars were allocated a US$25 million budget for the 2021 Afcon finals in Cameroon and the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. Reports indicate Malawi, our group opponents at Afcon next year (if we go) will be camping in Dubai. Where is Zifa supposed to get money to compete with these nations? Maybe from the US$53 000 that was extended to it in 2019.

Now the SRC’s decision to suspend Zifa has already cost the local league money running into hundreds of thousands. Never mind the dynamics and arguments around who made the call for the referees to abandon matches. But who will pay?

The suspended Zifa executive is currently under attack from the media.

They have been painted as the fall guys of the current mess. I have no brief to defend them but the SRC as the custodians of sports including football in this country has an obligation to make rational decisions that do not bring the country into disrepute.

It is a no-brainer that the decision to suspend the Zifa executive will result in sanctions from Fifa including but not limited to a total ban. It would be a miracle if this doesn’t happen. If, well, when this happens, all clubs and national teams will stand banned from participating in all CAF and Fifa tournaments. This means no Warriors at Afcon next year.

The Mighty Warriors who stand on the threshold of their fifth qualification to the women’s Afcon tournament in which they meet Botswana in the final qualifier will also have wasted all their efforts to reach far. This, because someone sitting in an office decided they can and they will.

Fifa recently announced it has set aside over US$1 billion to build stadiums in countries struggling with infrastructure. Zimbabwe stands to benefit but this could all go up in smoke.

Now the ordinary football follower will ask what scorched earth reasoning is behind the Zifa suspension.

In conversations with practicing journalist colleagues, sports administrators including those at Zifa as well as cricket, one gets the sense that there is more to this than meets the eye. The theory is that the SRC realised they would be found in a sticky wicket next year when the 2023 Afcon qualifiers begin. Zimbabwe would have to host their matches in South Africa or some other country in the region.

There is no greater embarrassment than this. So, a Smart Alec at SRC could have had an epiphany: suspend Zifa, get a Fifa ban, no football for at least two year and problem solved.

It’s the type of ingenuity that Zimbabweans only find when pushed into a corner and don’t want to do the right thing. We tried it with cricket and failed. Now look at what the same Zimbabwe Cricket executive that had been kicked out has done. They are currently hosting an international women’s World Cup qualifying tournament. The ICC has announced the next World Cup will be co-hosted by Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. One can only imagine the benefits and opportunities that this event will bring to Zimbabwe in terms of sports tourism. Zimbabwe Cricket was right after all.

Now the night terror hounds have surfaced at football’s doorstep, a gullible media in tow, they are wreaking havoc in the national game. I bet Fifa will not endorse this. We have our collective foot in our collective mouths as a footballing nation.

We have always had problems at Zifa, they are a perennial feature. Who remembers Leo Mugabe and the charade that was Afcon ‘98 that Zimbabwe was supposed to host, Vincent Pamire to Philip Chiyangwa and others in between. When has our football ever been at peace? Even the Dream Team flourished in an environment of chaos. The noises have always been outside Zifa than inside.

We will lose this one. But the greatest losers are the players across the board. After two years without football because of COVID-19, someone at the SRC has decided we need two more at the very least. In the end Felton Kamambo and his group will return to Zifa. The same Zifa regional structures that wrought on us Kamambo et al will be responsible for creating a new executive or retaining the old order. Not the SRC. Bar the shouting. Both the SRC and Zifa have no plan for football.

For a country desperate to engage the world, the last thing Zimbabwe needs is a cat-fight with powerful bodies such as Fifa.

We have done the same with the Commonwealth, claiming we had a plan but now we are back cap in hand, begging for re-admission. Zimbabwe needs Fifa and not the other way round. There is no need to spite the face by cutting the nose.

Richard Chidza is an International Relations and Communications specialist. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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