SO, in the end, it took the intervention of ZIFA for the Premier Soccer League to find a breakthrough in their impasse with the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, over the availability of the National Sports Stadium for this long weekend’s Castle Lager Premiership fixtures in Harare!
The ministry, who run the National Sports Stadium, had closed the facility from all football matches, starting yesterday, as part of a deal they agreed with Nigerian celebrity Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, the founder of Christ Embassy, whose people wanted to lay the groundwork for his maiden visit to this country on May 7.
This meant that today’s league match between champions CAPS United and Chapungu, tomorrow’s spicy derby showdown between unbeaten newboys Yadah Stars and former champions Dynamos, and a double-header on May Day would all have been postponed because of the unavailability of the giant stadium.
All the five Premiership clubs in the capital — Dynamos, CAPS United, Yadah Stars, Harare City and Black Rhinos — have been forced to use the giant stadium as their home ground, since the start of the season, because Rufaro is being renovated after the City Council ripped off the artificial surface and replaced it with natural grass while Gwanzura is also undergoing renovations.
With CAPS United set to miss a lot of league matches in the coming two months because of commitments in the CAF Champions League which will see them playing six games over a period of seven weeks, the postponement of this weekend’s fixtures would have created a huge problem for the PSL leadership.
Already, they have been struggling to find a date to stage the four matches that were postponed when CAPS United, Dynamos, Highlanders and FC Platinum had their league matches deferred to enable the clubs to play in the 2017 Independence Cup tournament.
Then, there is also the issue of their broadcast partner SuperSport who had already planned their schedule by committing themselves to televise their first matches of this year’s league programme starting today, with all the four matches they will cover this long weekend set for the giant stadium.
In an era where SuperSport have already terminated their relationship with the Kenyan Premiership because of concerns that the league in that country isn’t being run on professional lines, the last thing the PSL leaders needed right now was to have problems plaguing the first round of matches set to be covered by their television broadcast partner.
There is a lot of planning that goes into the coverage of these matches, which all comes at a cost, and for all that to be wiped away without the delivery of the product simply because the PSL found themselves without a stadium to stage their matches, would have been embarrassing for the top-flight league’s leaders.
And, who knows, it could also have provided the excuse, if SuperSport wanted one, to find a way — like they did in Kenya recently — to sign divorce papers with our PSL.
While Pastor Chris’ visit is a huge event and the Nigerian clergyman, to his credit, has been saying a lot of very good things about our country in recent weeks, what we can’t understand is why it needed more than 10 days for his people to start preparing the giant stadium for his visit and, in the process, take sole ownership of this facility.
We believe that six days before the clergyman holds his crusade, is enough for all the preparations needed to ensure the giant stadium is ready for the big event.
Without football, the giant stadium becomes a white elephant — an investment that went down the drain — and the ministry should not have ensured that a one-off event takes precedence over a league that is always providing them with teams that have been using the stadium, all year around, and also providing them with income that is generated from the gate receipts with a chunk of it going to the Sports Commission.
The intervention of ZIFA should be commended and shows that our football leaders, after the ugliness that characterised the relationship between the Association and PSL bosses in the past, are now willing to work together for the good of the game.
For a long time now the PSL leaders have struggled to recognise ZIFA as the ultimate football authority in the country, parading themselves as an independent body that is working on an island, and every time the Association had raised concern about issues, the top-flight league’s bosses cried foul claiming their independence was being violated by a mother body that wanted to swallow them.
But of late we have seen the two parties working together and that is healthy for our football because, in the long run, that will create an environment that is attractive to sponsors while conflict, as was the case in the past, tends to drive away corporate partners that our football needs to remain alive.
The PSL should not only rush to ZIFA when they face a challenge whose resolution is beyond them, but they should always work together for the good of our sport.