By Grace Chingoma
With just over a fortnight to go before the 2018 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League season bursts into life, a crisis is looming in the top-flight, with the release of the fixture programme having been withheld, while a number of venues have been condemned.
The season has tentatively been set for March 10, a week after the league’s annual meeting. But prospects of a smooth kick off to a championship that was characterised by a riveting finish last year, appear to be dimming as each passing week comes with its own problems.
If it was not about top clubs being rocked by player strikes, it was about a build-up that has been low-key with the bulk of the stadiums that ZIFA’s First Instance Board, which also includes PSL officials and referees’ committee members, have condemned.
There has also been a cloud of uncertainty over the 2018 participation of clubs like Yadah Stars, Shabanie Mine, Bulawayo Chiefs and Mutare City amid indications of acute budgetary constraints.
The dark cloud hanging over the start of the country’s flagship season has also been compounded by the non-availability of five venues — Rufaro, Sakubva, Ascot, Maglas and Gwanzura that have so far been condemned and deemed unfit for use for Premiership games.
PSL chief executive Kenny Ndebele could not be reached for comment on problems surrounding the release of the fixtures, which has also left a number of coaches worried as they continue to go about their season preparations with some “blind planning”.
The league’s communications officer Kudzai Bare did not discuss much except to say “the fixtures will be released as soon as can be possible”.
Bare, however, insisted that the delay in releasing fixtures had not been necessitated by the problems surrounding the issue of venues.
“What happens is that we get a report from FIB. We are yet to get that report, but we only gathered through media reports that some grounds have not been certified. It is never a problem for us in terms of preparing fixtures should other stadiums fail to pass.
All the Premiership clubs submit their preferred stadium and an alternative. If the alternative is not proper we will look for the next best solution,” Bare said.
ZIFA communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela, who is the spokesperson for the First Instance Board, however, confirmed that they had slammed the poor state of some stadiums that did not meet the Club Licensing requirements so far.
In line with Confederation of African Football requirements, ZIFA are this year demanding that top-flight clubs lead the way in compliance and have revealed they will be stricter on defaulting teams.
Gwesela said the deadline for submitting club licensing requirements is today and inspection of stadiums to assess their suitability is one of the pillars aimed at bringing professionalism in the running of the game in Zimbabwe.
The FIB will carry out another inspection of venues and then meet to determine which stadia and teams will be approved for the upcoming season.
“I can confirm that we did Club Licensing inspections, which covered the infrastructure, sporting, administration and personnel, legal and financial criteria.
“Clubs were advised to submit necessary documentation to enable the First Instance Body to sit and evaluate all relevant documentation and applications and then issue licenses to successful clubs.
“The deadline for submission of required documentation is 22 February (today). FIB will sit in due course and the same meeting will determine which stadiums to be homologated or not,” said Gwesela.
Sources also revealed last night that while the PSL are not completely losing sleep over the venues yet, it is the cloud of uncertainty that hang over the future of some clubs that has presented the league chiefs with some anxious moments.
“Tentatively the league should start on 10 March and even if some venues are not available that won’t be much of a problem as teams like Shabanie Mine can use Mandava.
But the major problem at the moment is that some clubs do not seem to have fully committed themselves to playing in the PSL this year and there is talk that some franchises might be sold.
“There are problems at clubs like Yadah, Mutare City, Bulawayo Chiefs and Shabanie, which have not been finalised and it has made it difficult on the league to release a fixture that has Mutare City or Yadah when maybe by the time the season starts their franchises would have changed hands,” the sources said.
While Gwesela and his team are working on the venues, such coaches like Highlanders gaffer Madinda Ndlovu and Chicken Inn’s Joey Antipas, who are making a return to the domestic scene after stints in Botswana and South Africa will have to make do with waiting for days on end to know the outlook of the programme.
Ndlovu and Dynamos’ Lloyd Mutasa will test their wits in ZNA Charity Shield final on Sunday, but after that the two coaches, just like a host of their counterparts, who include CAPS United’s Lloyd Chitembwe, new Black Rhinos mentor Herbert Maruwa, Ngezi Platinum’s Tonderai Ndiraya, Tendai Chikuni of Chapungu and Shabanie Mine’s Takesure Chiragwi would have to just wait before they know the identity of their opponents in the opening stages of the championship.
Chikuni, and Chiragwi also face the same grim prospects as that of their counterparts at newsboys Nichrut, and Mutare City, whose home grounds have already been deemed unfit for the Premiership games and would have to make do with alternative venues.
Although they chose anonymity, for fear of being penalised by the PSL, some of the coaches yesterday also slammed the delay in the release of the fixtures.
“For planning purposes, it is better to know which kind of opposition you are playing in opening games and where. Even the friendly matches you arrange for the team, you will be better informed which team to pick if you have the fixtures.
Other countries quickly publish their fixtures for everyone to know, but again here we have to work with what is there and there is nothing we can do about it,” said one coach.