The Council of Southern African Football Associations this week handed ZIFA a US$50 000 fine, and a condition to host the region’s premier football tournament next year, as part of a cocktail of sanctions following Zimbabwe’s decision to withdraw from staging the tourney this year.
There had been fears the COSAFA disciplinary committee could hand ZIFA a US$1 million fine, as prescribed by the statutes that govern the operations of the regional football controlling body, and also ban the Warriors from taking part in this year’s tournament.
But, after presentations from the ZIFA legal representatives at a hearing held in Johannesburg recently, COSAFA decided to impose an effective US$50 000 fine, with the other US$150 000 being suspended on the basis this country doesn’t forego its rights to host the tourney again.
The Warriors were then allowed to play in this year’s tournament, which has been shifted to South Africa, and will be used by the likes of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Angola as part of their preparations for the 2019 AFCON finals which get underway in Egypt next month.
Zimbabwe are the defending champions, after having won the tournament in the last two years, and the Warriors have generally been the standout team in the tourney, which they have won a record six times while their coach, Sunday Chidzambwa, is yet to lose a match there.
ZIFA president Felton Kamambo responded to the decision by the COSAFA disciplinary committee by telling this newspaper that they will appeal while Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry said Zimbabwe will not be force-marched into hosting the tournament if the country felt doing so would not be in our best interests.
Coventry was the one who announced the initial decision that Zimbabwe would not host this year’s tournament because of limited time to put together a successful tourney without any administrative glitches that could paint a negative picture of the country.
Being the most successful African Olympian in history, who graced many international sporting tournaments, Coventry knows the true value of writing success stories when it comes to the hosting of such events and also knows the negativity that comes with failing to do so.
Her strongly-worded response to COSAFA that the country would not be forced into doing things it did not believe in, and can only sanction the hosting of such a tournament as and when it feels the conditions are right, for everything to be a success story, showed there is a commitment by the Government to do things the right way.
Right now, our major stadiums are not in the best of shape and we need to get them into superb conditions where the football players can express their talents without having to fear for injuries which can come from playing on the bad pitches we now see at Rufaro and the National Sports Stadium.
The facelift which the Harare City Council, who are the owners of Rufaro, claimed they were undertaking to spruce up the image of the stadium has turned into a joke, at best, and a fake exercise, at worst, with questions now being asked if the money which was poured into the project was really used for its intended purposes.
For, how do they explain that Rufaro, the traditional home of domestic football, is now in worse shape than was the case before the renovations were done and its pitch, whose grass was re-laid, is now possibly the worst playing surface of any ground being used by domestic Premiership clubs?
Gwanzura, which was closed a long time ago, remains shut with renovations, which the council promised would be completed in the early part of last year, still ongoing at that stadium.
Even the National Sports Stadium is in real bad shape, especially the playing surface, and the CAF officials who regularly inspect stadiums across the continent to certify them to host international matches, have already warned us that we need to work on our stadiums or they will be outlawed from hosting such games.
All these things need to be sorted out, before we even think of hosting the COSAFA Cup, and that’s why we believe that we have to deal with our immediate challenges, of sprucing up our stadiums, before we invite the entire region to play in a two-week football festival in our country.
We have to send the signal to the world that we are a country that is moving from a past that was difficult and marching into a future that looks promising but we can’t do that by inviting the region to send their national football teams here to play in stadiums we know are not in the condition we want them to be.
We have too many enemies out there, who are always ready to jump on anything negative, to find the material to feast upon and denigrate our country and we shouldn’t be providing it on a silver platter for them like hosting the COSAFA Cup in stadiums we know are not in the best shape to do so.
Maybe, as Coventry has suggested, in a year’s time we would have sorted our infrastructural challenges and, only then can we invite the region to come and party with us in a football festival like the COSAFA Cup.