Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
JUST five weeks into the 2017 season the Premier Soccer League have been thrown into a quandary with their fixtures facing a massive disruption again following a decision by the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing to temporarily close the National Sports Stadium from any football activities. The domestic Premiership has already suffered from the closure for renovations of Rufaro, which is expected to open its doors in two weeks time and Gwanzura, forcing Harare’s five clubs — Black Rhinos, CAPS United, Dynamos, Harare City and Yadah to share the same venue — the National Sports Stadium.
Yesterday, the league completed Week Five fixtures with Dynamos facing How Mine at the National Sports Stadium while Chicken Inn were at home to Rhinos at Luveve.
But the ministry says that is the last football match in the next two weeks because they need to start preparations for Pastor Chris’ crusade scheduled for May 7.
The ministry told the PSL of the unavailability of the National Sports Stadium through a letter written by an official Joe Nyikayapera who was acting on behalf of the secretary George Mlilo.
Nyikayapera was writing in response to an update from the PSL on the fixture programme for the long weekend which would stretch into the Workers Day on Monday.
The PSL had indicated to Nyikayapera that they would be using the stadium from April 26 through to May 1 after which they would take a break for the May 7 church crusade and resume immediately after.
“We acknowledge receipt of your fixture for use of our stadium as the above mentioned dates (April 26 /27 /29 /30 and May 1).
“Please be advised that we can only accommodate the two matches on April 26 and April 27. The other matches cannot be accommodated because we are having two major events next week hence there is a need of setting up the venue,’’ said Nyikayapera.
But the PSL are not amused at the stance taken by the stadium authorities.
PSL chief executive Kenny Ndebele immediately wrote back to Nyikayapera expressing the league’s displeasure at the decision to close out football for a prolonged period ahead of the Christ Ministries crusade.
“We acknowledge receipt and thank you for your letter dated April 25, 2017.
“We are disappointed that you have taken a decision to deny us use of the National Sports for the weekend of April 29 to May 1.
“We are aware that the National Sports Stadium is currently the home of five PSL clubs which are Black Rhinos, CAPS United, Dynamos, Harare City and Yadah.
“The said clubs will not be able to play home matches for two consecutive weeks.
“This will certainly disrupt our league programme and affect all the 18 PSL clubs.
“While we realise that there will be a church crusade on the 7th of May we feel it is unfair to block us from using the stadium for two weeks. The backlog of Castle Lager fixtures will also affect registration of clubs representing Zimbabwe for the 2018 Confederation of African Football inter-club competitions as we are likely to miss the deadline,’’ wrote Ndebele.
The PSL chief executive also said he was worried that CAPS United could become the worst affected club given that the Green Machine will also feature in the Champions League group stage which will burst into life on May 12-14 when Lloyd Chitembwe’s men visit five-time African champions Zamalek in Cairo.
Ndebele said the PSL’s plight had not been helped by the closure of Rufaro which could have hosted Dynamos, Harare City and Yadah.
“We have been doing our best to maximise use of just one venue for five Harare clubs and we have also taken cognisance of the fact that CAPS United will be involved in the Champions League group stage fixtures.
“So postponing CAPS United’s games will not help them as they would lag further behind,’’ Ndebele said.
ZIFA communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela also supported the PSL.
“ZIFA would like to express our full support to the PSL in their bid to have access to the NSS for their pre-arranged fixtures.
“It must be noted that the league arranged their programme on the understanding that the stadium would be availed to them and had thus also advised their sponsors and other stakeholders.
“It is unfortunate that the Ministry of Public Works have chosen to prioritise one client at the expense of others and with severe ramifications on the international standing of Zimbabwean football with the Confederation of African Football as the local clubs would have been prejudiced of an opportunity to register on time without risking accruing financial penalties.”