10 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Zifa, Stop the Circus


Zimbabwe football has a long history of under-achievement, an endless dance with incompetent administrators and years of misplaced priorities that have all played a part in derailing the national game's development.

That the Warriors, with just two Nations Cup appearances in 32 years, are a sick joke is there for everyone to see and that our neighbours Zambia are the African champions rubs salt into the gashing emotional wounds we have carried for years.

What really hurts, in all this, is the reality that, when compared to the Zambians, we are not in any way inferior when it comes to football talent and our neighbours had to wait until this year for a player to break into the English Premiership. Interestingly, the majority of the players who helped Zambia win the 2012 Nations Cup finals were here for the Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup in 2009 and, in the final against our home-based Warriors, Chipolopolo were soundly beaten 1-3 at Rufaro.

While the Zambians have developed in leaps and bounds, since that meeting three years ago, thanks to the leadership of Kalusha Bwalya, we have been on a downward spiral.

Our football leaders, save for Mavis Gumbo who has done wonders for her constituency, who came into office in March 2010, just four months after we were crowned Cosafa Cup champions, have spent the last 32 months of their term of office dealing exclusively with the Asiagate match-fixing scandal and doing a rather shoddy job of it. We support Cuthbert Dube's initiatives that corrupt weeds should be rooted out of our national game, but we have a problem when it turns into a personal crusade that dumps everything else, which is important in this game, into the dust bin.

For the record, we are not the first country to face challenges with match-fixing and neither are we going to be the last. There is no doubt that the Italians have faced bigger and more complex challenges, compared to us. But the Italians have found a way of dealing with their challenges without destroying the very game they are trying to protect, and it's not a coincidence that in the very year that they suffered their worst match-fixing crisis, in 2006, they built a team strong enough to win the World Cup.

In contrast, our football leaders appear desperate to destroy the national game, in their house-cleaning exercise, and we wonder what they intend to manage after the entire house has collapsed. That our 2013 Nations Cup campaign was derailed by Asiagate and all its sub-plots is not even questionable now and when you have the star player, Knowledge Musona, suddenly announcing his retirement from international football midway through the campaign, you know everything is not well in the house.

That our star players like Khama Billiat, Willard Katsande, Kingstone Nkhatha, Edward Sadomba, Cuthbert Malajila and Musona all suffered badly, in terms of their psychological preparedness for such important national assignments, because their names were at some point dragged into this Asiagate mess is very clear for everyone to see.

Zifa president Cuthbert Dube wants us to believe that the majority of these guys have turned into mercenaries and cannot be trusted to play for their country, carrying the same pride that you find in the Zambians, and his board disbanded the team following the failed bid to qualify for South Africa. Dube said their immediate priority was to build a new senior national team, picked from the best players emerging from the Under-20s and Under-17s, and blending them with a few of the players who will remain from the cast of Warriors who featured in the campaign for South Africa.

It sounds reasonable until you look deeper beyond the public relations blitz being staged by the Zifa board.

For how do we really explain Zifa's commitment, as they claim, to building a team for the future based on the Under-20s and Under-17s when the very same association has, in the past three months, failed to send the two teams to away assignments? How do we trust this Zifa leadership, in their grand design to build a team using the best teenage talent emerging in our country, when they force the same teams to forfeit their matches in the two African Youth Championship tournaments tailor-made to develop such talent?

If this Zifa leadership failed to learn, in three months, the dangers of waiting for last-minute bail-out packages to secure funding to send its junior national teams to away assignments, what guarantees are there that, in the next year or so, the same officials would have learnt anything from the mistakes they have made?

If Zifa could raise US$500 000 just for one game in just two weeks, why then did it become so impossible to raise just US$40 000 in a whole month that has passed since Congo Brazzaville Under-17 came for a showdown with our boys? Are we wrong to believe that this Zifa board only cares about glory and, when it beckoned on the horizon with the Warriors favoured to clear the hurdle in Angola for a place at the 2013 Nations Cup finals, they all came together and chartered a plane to Luanda.

In contrast, the Under-17s had last travelled to Maputo by bus, with a Zifa board member who was the Head of Delegation turning into the driver when the regular driver got tired and, so, in terms of the glitz and glamour, their brand didn't offer much.

Inevitably, the Zifa leaders retreated into the shell and abandoned the poor young boys.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to buy Zifa's argument that they are committed to developing our football, because they are doing nothing on that front, and with just 15 months left in their four-year term of office, the picture looks very gloomy.

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