Inside sport: Believe only when it happens

Kirsty Coventry

Last week, Zambia were busy gliding a 3-0 home win over the Ivory Coast and Mozambique were traveling to Rwanda where they came back home with a 2-0 win and three vital points during the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

South Africa too were busy picking up a memorable 2–1 win over 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco while the Flames of Malawi on Tuesday traveled and held Ethiopia to a 0-0 draw.

Yet, Zimbabweans were watching others in action in Africa’s biggest football competition.

These are the results of the disorganisation of Zimbabwean sport to the extent that we have missed the adventures of Afcon 2023 and there is a danger too of missing out on the 2026 World Cup.

What is disheartening is that nobody seems to care about what is happening and even up to now Sports minister Kirsty Coventry still thinks where we are is where we should be simply because she does not feel the pain of the footballing public.

Coventry has promised Zimbabwean football, something ‘big’ in the next three weeks but it is nothing that football followers should get excited about because with the sports authorities, one should only believe when it happens.

The minister and others in sports authority follow other sports and do not love our football the same way more than half the Zimbabwean public does and as such they do not feel or understand what missing out of international football means.

The minister remains adamant that Zimbabwe is not desperate for a quick return to international football until they through the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) fix the mess in the Zimbabwean game.

Sadly, though, events on the ground suggest that they are not doing anything much to fix that mess as the much talked about normalization process was last heard of on the day the findings and recommendations of the Zifa restructuring committee were handed over to then Zifa interim committee, headed by Gift Banda.

The belief and understanding is that every abnormal situation has a time frame or deadline for the situation to be corrected but the Zimbabwean football story does not seem to have a roadmap and is operating in darkness.

We were told and promised by the SRC that all the Zifa structures would have held their elections by March 31 but three months down the line it is still talk and promises but no action.

Even the National Sports Stadium is still where it was or probably worse than when it was first revealed 10 or so years ago that the stands were cracking and were now a danger to the safety of spectators.

Surely when a national stadium - under ministry control — is declared not good enough to host matches of the statute of Yadah, Herentals, and Simba Bhora, then something big surely is wrong somewhere.

It would be wrong to ignore the connection between the National Sports Stadium and the Zifa normalization process because both are part of the problem that the ministry of Sport is trying to resolve.

Coventry has given all sorts of explanations as to why work earlier planned for the NSS did not take place but the minister should be reminded that what Zimbabweans want to hear is progress and not excuses.

How surely can a minister of a government and not of a church honestly stand up to tell the nation that works earmarked for the NSS were not done for three years because of allegations of corruption in her own ministry’s office — Really?

Whose fault was that? When a company fails to operate at full throttle as expected the blame goes to the chief executive officer who in our sport is minister Coventry.

The minister has now come out to say they have engaged an international partner to spearhead the renovations of the NSS but only when the real job starts will we stand up to take notice.

If we can go back a bit, in May 2020, Coventry told the nation that renovations to upgrade the giant stadium were 30% away from almost complete but three years down the line, the NSS is still not qualified to host its own national teams.

On that premise, the latest promise can only be believed when the stadium is 100% complete and for that matter 100% perfect.

The minister failed to handle a simple matter involving Zifa and the SRC— resulting in the Fifa ban — and for over three years, failed to ensure progress at the NSS even when the money for the project was there.

It can be argued that Zimbabwe’s biggest problems in football history came during Coventry’s tenure and chances are that she will leave the burden for others to carry as there is no guarantee that she will be retained in the next cabinet reshuffle.

Although it would be unfair to label Coventry a failure — as some have already done on social media — the minister herself should reflect on her performance since the day of September 7, 2018, when she was appointed, and come up with a rating of herself.

As we move forward, Zimbabweans are fed up with the promises and the grandstanding at gatherings. What they want to see is progress at the NSS and a quick solution to the Zifa administrative upheavals - that is all.

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