Johannesburg — AFTER a three-year absence, Southern Africa's flagship soccer tournament - the Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup - is back! The tournament, last hosted and won by Zimbabwe under Sunday "Mhofu" Chidzambwa at Rufaro in 2009, has also been re-branded to its old identity - the Cosafa Castle Cup - after the regional body re-ignited their marriage with South African Breweries who will bankroll the competition this year.
It has been six years after the initial 10-year agreement between Cosafa and South African Breweries expired while the Warriors remain the team with the highest number of titles having won the competition in 2000 with Misheck Chidzambwa, 2003 under his brother Sunday Chidzambwa, Charles Mhlauri two years later and Sunday Chidzambwa again.
Cosafa president Suketu Patel revealed that the tournament would be staged in July in Zambia.
Patel, speaking after a function at which Confederation of African Football president Issa Hayatou officially opened the new Cosafa House in Johannesburg on Saturday, said they had revived their romance with Castle for the resumption of the competition that had been struggling to find sponsorship.
The Seychelles businessman, who is also a Caf vice-president, said although Cosafa would retain their headquarters in Botswana, they had invested in the Cosafa House in Johannesburg, which would become the regional body's administrative and commercial wing.
Cosafa, Patel also said, become the first of the zonal bodies that are affiliated to Caf to purchase their own property that house their administrative wing under long-serving chief operating officer Sue Destombes.
"Having our own offices is an important step forward for Cosafa and is in line with the exciting plans that we have for the future. It is important that we are able to function in a professional environment that helps the organisation in our day-to-day operations.
"Having our own facilities will also help us to cut costs as, for example, we now have our own venue for meetings rather than needing to finance outside facilities," Patel said.
Cosafa previously rented office space in Johannesburg but having been issued a grant from Caf for the specific purpose of setting up their offices in the region, the organisation decided to purchase property.
But it is the return of the flagship tournament that is set to ignite excitement among Cosafa's 14 member countries.
Patel said the weaker teams in the region would get the competition underway by playing a series of preliminary games before the top six nations join in at the later stages.
"We are the first region to have its own home and I am happy to announce that the Cosafa Senior Challenge which was absent for the past three years is back and will be staged in Zambia. We have signed a media rights deal yesterday (on Friday) including with SuperSport and a sponsorship agreement with Castle.
"We are very strong in administration and you cannot have ambitions without a strong foundation" Patel said.
The Cosafa president said his organisation also wanted to continue holding more developmental tournaments to enhance the growth in the region.
"Cosafa wants to hold more developmental tournaments. Last year we had Under-17 in Zambia which we jointly staged with SADC.
"This year the Senior Challenge Cup will be back and we are still looking for sponsorship for the Under-20 tournament."
Patel, however, said responsibility to develop national teams lay with the various national teams and not his regional body.
"We must not forget that the responsibility to develop national teams lies with the federations and we have to appreciate that most of the countries in our region do not have the kind of resources that those in North Africa have."
Patel was nonetheless happy with the progress made by Cosafa teams despite South Africa having been the only side from the region to reach the knock-out stages of this year's African Cup of Nations.
"I think we have done well. Don't forget that we are competing against zones that have been in existsience long before us.
"Last year Zambia won the cup, so it's about long-term development. We must have a development plan."
Patel also reckoned that Cosafa had played a part in Zambia's development into 2012 African champions, citing the Zambians' progress in the regional youth tournaments.
Zambia won the last edition of the Cosafa Under-20 in Botswana two years ago when the competition was still being bankrolled by Metropolitan.