Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor—
FIFA have heaped lavish praise on Zimbabwe, describing it as a beautiful country, in yet another ringing endorsement of both this nation and those in charge of its national game as the bond between the global and local football leadership continues to gain in strength. This follows the recent high-profile two-day visit by the leaders of the world football governing body, led by FIFA president Gianni Infantino and secretary-general Fatima Samoura, who were in Harare for a glitzy bash held by ZIFA boss Philip Chiyangwa to celebrate his birthday and historic ascension to become the leader of COSAFA.
The FIFA heavyweights resisted attempts by the CAF leaders to discourage those from outside the COSAFA grouping to attend the bash, claiming it was part of a campaign to prop up the profile of Madagascar Football Federation boss Ahmad Ahmad, who is challenging long-serving CAF president for the leadership of the game on the continent.
The CAF leaders accused Chiyangwa of allegedly destabilising football on the continent and have already issued threats that his case will be discussed by their executive committee ahead of the organisation’s elections next week.
Chiyangwa has warned the CAF leaders he could resort to legal action, if they attempt to sanction him, and FIFA’s statements saying they expect to see the COSAFA boss in Ethiopia next week also appear to suggest that whatever action could be taken against the Harare businessman by Hayatou and his crew could be quashed by the world football governing body.
Relations between the CAF leaders and Chiyangwa, who is Ahmad’s campaign manager, have deteriorated in recent weeks with Hayatou and his camp unhappy with the way the Harare property mogul has confronted the establishment with a public challenge — pregnant with both sound and fury — which has been rocking their boat.
But the ZIFA boss continues to enjoy the backing of the FIFA leaders, who have the ultimate call on anything related to football in the world, and the secretary-general of the world football governing body expressed that love affair in her letter to Chiyangwa this week.
The ZIFA president had said his bash was a blend of both football, and tourism, and that the FIFA leaders have gone to the extent of describing this country as “beautiful” will go a long way in proving that Chiyangwa’s party ticked all the boxes.
“I landed in Zurich sound and safe and wanted through this letter to express to you my profound gratitude for the thoughtful invitation, wonderful welcome and the warm attention I received during my stay in Zimbabwe,” Fatouma said in a letter sent on Monday.
“On behalf of the entire delegation, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for heartfelt and cordial welcome extended to us.
“I felt honoured and privileged to have had the unique opportunity to visit your beautiful country and enjoy many memorable moments in your company, culminating with the celebration of your birthday at the Rainbow Towers.
“I look forward to seeing you again at the 39th CAF Ordinary General Assembly in Addis Ababa.”
Chiyangwa left Harare yesterday for the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on the invitation of that country’s football leaders in what has been described by the ZIFA leaders as yet another demonstration of not only their growing influence in the affairs of the game on the continent but also how their work is being appreciated in Africa.
On Monday, speculation was rife on social media circles that Chiyangwa had been summoned to Cairo by CAF for a disciplinary hearing even though the executive committee of the organisation only meets next week.
Hayatou, the CAF boss, is currently in Zambia amid reports he is unable to travel to Egypt because of some legal issues related to investigations by that country’s authorities into deals entered by CAF and their partners.
ZIFA, through their vice-president Omega Sibanda, yesterday said it was sad that while they were moving mountains, and gaining the respect of FIFA leaders in the way they were trying to improve Zimbabwean football, there was a hostile constituency at home that was fighting against them using fake reports meant to damage their profiles.
“Contrary to speculation which has been rife in the past two days, we want to categorically state that our president, Philip Chiyangwa, hasn’t been summoned for any disciplinary hearing by CAF and his visit to Egypt, which these people have been spinning as a basis to suggest he is going for a hearing, is on the invitation of our fellow Egyptian football leaders,” said Sibanda.
“This is purely a bilateral sporting relationship and there is a huge difference between the Egyptian Football Federation and CAF and, for us, we feel this is part of the acceptance by our fellow football leaders that we are doing something right in the way we are managing football in this country and our expertise can also help them.
“We are aware of those who are trying to tarnish the image of our president and they have been on a shameless crusade for some time now but their efforts have, so far, proved fruitless and they have now resorted to manufacturing fake correspondence from CAF and other quarters to further their agenda.
“Those who are causing all this confusion will be ruthlessly dealt with because we cannot let the game drift into lawlessness in this country and while we accept criticism and believe that we should be working together, for the good of our country, we are disappointed that there are those who have gone into the trenches to fight on behalf of the CAF leaders as if they have benefited anything from what we believe is a biased way in which we are treated in African football.
“We believe we have done well, under very challenging circumstances, and suddenly the same people who were quiet when our Under-20s were not playing football, not so long ago under the previous ZIFA leaders, have converted themselves into champions of criticism now that our boys were knocked out by Cameroon for the tournament in Zambia.” The Young Warriors were eliminated by Cameroon, in the second round of the qualifiers, after a 0-3 defeat away from home having held their rivals to a goalless draw in Harare. They had beaten Botswana in the first round