Government’s decision to turn down the offer for Zimbabwe to host the COSAFA Cup tournament this year has, predictably, provoked mixed reactions. A group representing the fans said it will seek a hearing with Government officials to try and persuade them to reconsider the decision because, they argue, there are massive benefits the country could reap from staging the tournament.
They say that, for two weeks, the regional focus will be on Zimbabwe and we can then show the world that, contrary to some of the negativity it has been hearing — generated by political malcontents who want to drag us into the abyss just to satisfy their selfish interests — we are a nation that is functioning well.
Admittedly, our image has suffered from some bad press in recent months and these fans say that a successful hosting of the tournament would send a positive signal that we are a country, despite the challenges we face, which is coping well and striding forward.
These fans also argue that the players and officials who would have come here for the tournament, and enjoyed our hospitality, would take back home some good vibes of the real Zimbabwe and their stories, generated from a personal assessment of our situation, would be a huge public relations coup for us.
Given that, for the first time in the history of this tournament, 16 countries — which was the size of the last AFCON tournament in Gabon — were set to be part of the festival, the opportunities that come with hosting the tournament far outweigh the costs.
And, crucially, by having the tournament at home, the fans say Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambwa could have used it to bond the team, should we qualify for the 2019 AFCON finals next month, with the fans before they fly out to Egypt.
The timing of this year’s COSAFA is such that the organisers want it to be used as a preparatory tournament for those countries going to this year’s AFCON and Chidzambwa could have used all our regular players who feature in the Nation’s Cup qualifiers.
The tournament also conveniently falls when the major European leagues are on their off-season break and Chidzambwa would have used the likes of Knowledge Musona, Tino Kadewere and Marvelous Nakamba and, should the Warriors qualify for AFCON, it would then turn into a farewell party for the team and their fans. However, there is another side to this, which also has to be appreciated.
The Government, through Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry, argue that they received a short notice to host the event and they couldn’t commit to doing so without risking dragging the country’s name into the mud in the event of challenges besetting the running of the tournament.
We believe that is a fair argument and one that we all have to listen to as much as we would all have wanted to see the tournament being hosted on our doorsteps.
The main message coming from the Government being that it’s not worth it for the entire country to take a risk, which could backfire badly on us in the event that things go terribly wrong — given we didn’t have enough time for the preparations — by rushing to host this tournament.
The very benefits that we are hoping to accrue, including boosting our Brand Zimbabwe project, might not be realised in the event we mess up the staging of this event, since we didn’t have enough time to prepare for it, with the country opening itself up for possible criticism around the region and across the continent.
The very toxic people we believe we could silence by staging a very successful tournament could come back to haunt us using the shortcomings that would emerge in the event we fail to do a good job, simply because there wasn’t enough time to do a decent job, and they will hammer us left, right and centre.
We have hosted the COSAFA Cup before and set a benchmark of excellence when we did that, with massive crowds coming to watch the matches, while our Warriors provided the ultimate culmination to the event by winning the final before a capacity 40 000 people at Rufaro.
Those are the standards that we set for ourselves and we can’t afford to lower them, simply because we rushed into accepting to host at short notice, and that is why we believe the Government is right.
We are a nation that dreams of one day hosting the AFCON Cup tournament and should we fail to do well in hosting the COSAFA Cup because we didn’t have enough time to do thorough preparations, the continent will never trust us with staging its flagship football tourney.
Unlike the previous COSAFA Cup tournaments, this year’s tourney is different in that it will feature 16 teams, and to ensure the safety of all the visitors, to ensure the whole system runs smoothly, a country needs a lot of time to plan for all that, and in this case, we didn’t have that crucial commodity.
We have to protect the reputation of our country and we don’t want to be portrayed as a nation that couldn’t even host a COSAFA Cup tournament and, when we get the right notification in future, we will show the world what we can do.
After all, in 2009, we hosted the most successful COSAFA Cup in history.