THE Umbro kit for our national football teams, which was unveiled in Harare on Thursday, has sparked another wave of debate amid an outpouring of emotions among a huge constituency which feels the apparel is an insult to the status of the teams that carry our identity as a nation.
Social media exploded on Thursday, as pictures from the function where the kit was being unveiled, started to be streamed live, with a sizeable number of those who reacted very critical, for a good reason, about what they said was the inferior quality of the kits.
Even though the British sportswear manufacturing firm, under pressure from local football fans, changed the official kit and dumped the ones with vertical and curving lines, which they had sent to this country last month, and came up with a plain kit in gold, white and green, the damning verdict by those who matter was that the kit was of an inferior quality.
And, looking at the kit, it’s easy to understand the fury that has accompanied the event which was supposed to be one where we would celebrate the final stage of our partnership with Umbro but has turned into one that has sharply divided our football community.
The negativity that has been generated by the exercise has been so deafening that, even CAPS United’s first defeat in the domestic Premiership campaign this season, and Chapungu’s surprise fine challenge which saw them ease to the top of the standings, were all overshadowed by the toxicity of the debate generated by this kit.
Even from a distance, for a casual observer, it’s very clear that Umbro didn’t put a lot of effort into the exercise of giving us a kit, steeped in our identity, but appear to have rushed into providing us with the kind of kit that one can pick up in a shop or even a flea market in any part of the country.
That our Warriors will be using this kit at the AFCON finals in Egypt, next month, where their fixture in taking on the hosts in the opening match of the tournament guarantees that they will be under the spotlight of the entire globe, is a shame because there is no doubt our troops could have gone into such a titanic battle dressed in a better way.
The plain green and white kits have no imagination, whatsoever, and it’s difficult to separate them from what we see being worn, every weekend, by social football clubs around the country and even some schoolboys and schoolgirls, who will take part in this year’s Copa Coca-Cola tournament, will be wearing better quality kits.
The flagship golden kit, which is the home kit for us, also lacks imagination and has some white strips, across the chest part of the jerseys, that are at best, meaningless, and at worst, something that someone, in his office, came up with and decided it fitted our identity.
The irony of it all is that the kit which the ZIFA bosses acquired from a shop in South Africa in March, when it became clear Umbro would not deliver in time for our AFCON qualifier against Congo-Brazzaville, was actually far better than the one the official sponsors delivered on Thursday.
The Mafro kits that we used at the last AFCON finals in Gabon were not the best because, when it comes to our kits, the one designed by L-Sporto, which we used at the 2004 AFCON finals, was as good as it gets, but — when compared to what we got from Umbro — those Mafro kits look very, very special.
National kits, for the representative national sports teams, are supposed to tell a story about the country that those teams will be representing.
The Zambian kits have always had the copper identity and, recently, our neighbours across the Zambezi decided to design and produce local kits for their national teams and we have seen some good quality stuff that has been coming out of that country.
The same cannot be said about the kits delivered by Umbro.
One can tell that the company, in consultation with whoever represented ZIFA in the design, didn’t do their job properly and this was something that was done in a haphazard manner which has now turned all of us into the laughing stock of the continent.
Somehow, someone even decided, in his wisdom or lack of it, to put our national flag, which should be the main feature of this kit, at the tail-end of the jerseys which ensures that, when the players tuck them inside their shorts, no one can see it which is what identifies us as a nation, and as a team.
We have our challenges as a nation, which we are battling to deal with, and which we remain confident of conquering, but that should not in an way expose us to some companies to believe we have become a dumping ground for the worst of their production line.
Clearly, when we look at this Umbro kit, it’s clear that someone felt we deserve the worst and this is not only unacceptable but there is need to confront it and ensure we get a better deal because our Warriors, Mighty Warriors and the fans who will get replicas, deserve better.