The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Soccer Begging for Revival

Football is our national sport, a game that touches millions of lives in Zimbabwe, and is now a multi-million dollar industry with thousands of lives in this country entirely dependent on this sporting discipline. A battery of corporate sponsors, notably Delta Beverages, Mbada Diamonds, Marange Resources, BancABC and NetOne, have poured substantial financial resources into the game, in the past few years, and all players and technical staff in the domestic Premiership are now fully-fledged professionals. Their earnings don't necessarily give them glitzy lifestyles, like their colleagues in South Africa who earn a substantial fortune, but they are able to earn a decent living and Denver Mukamba won more than US$12 000 in just one month from prizes of excellence, in December last year.

But there is a consensus that football, both as an industry and a sporting discipline, hasn't developed as much as it should have done in the 33 years since Independence and the Warriors have qualified for just two Africa Cup of Nations finals and are yet to make it to the World Cup finals.

Only one club, Dynamos, has made its presence felt on the Caf inter-club competitions.

But after reaching the final of the 1998 Champions League and being ranked as high as number six on the continent, the Glamour Boys have failed to qualify for the group stages of the competition in the past two seasons and were humiliated 1-7 on aggregate by Esperance of Tunisia last year.

A country that had two players in the maiden season of the English Premiership in the 1992/1993 season, Bruce Grobbelaar and Peter Ndlovu, and dozens of others in other leagues across Europe, now doesn't have any player in the top-tier of the English league and our best player, Knowledge Musona, is struggling to nail down a place in a struggling Bundesliga team.

The back pages of the national newspapers, which should chronicle the success stories from the football fields, have now turned into a library for damaging scandals, all related to football, from Asiagate, Centralgate right to Ballon d'Orgate.

Our football badly needs to be revived, from its junior structures right up to the senior national team, and the challenge lies within its leadership to provide the cocktail of measures that can turn around a game that has a lot of potential but hasn't scaled the heights that it could have touched if it had been properly managed.

It's one area that we haven't done well as a nation, providing sound administration for our national game, and successive Zifa leaders have all come, promising to make an impact but at the end of their tenure of office, have come horribly short of the targets they had set for themselves.

President Mugabe talked about football at State House this week, when he hosted Dynamos and Highlanders players and officials at a luncheon following the two giants' participation in the Bob 89 Super Cup that was won by the Glamour Boys.

The President on Monday challenged football administrators to raise the level of the game to enable the nation to participate at grand stages like the Afcon finals, and noted that the Government hasn't done enough to support sport.

He said had such backing been provided, the Warriors could play better than 2013 Nations Cup finalists Burkina Faso, noting that Zimbabwe's level of play was not in any way different from that of Angola who qualified for the showcase at our expense.

President Mugabe said there was need to invest in facilities like gyms to improve the physical fitness of our players, who also needed to adopt diets that help them develop as athletes.

We agree with the President that something must urgently be done about our football, to bring it to life after years of decline, and the challenge lies within the men and women whom we have tasked with running our national game and turning it into a success story.

We cannot continue to watch while other nations showcase their skills at such tournaments like the Afcon finals and, if Botswana could qualify as they did for the 2012 Afcon, there is absolutely no reason why our Warriors should continue to be armchair viewers of a football festival they should grace.

We cannot continue to be the laughing stock of the continent as the nation that fails to send its junior national football teams to its away assignments, as was the case last year, when both the Under-17 and Under-20 sides could not travel to Congo Brazzaville and Angola because Zifa were reeling under financial challenges. When we can't give young teenage stars a platform to showcase their talents in such tournaments, the only stage where they can develop themselves by competing with those from other countries, then you know that we are losing the plot completely.

When our national association has to bring out a begging bowl, every time there is an international assignment to be fulfilled, and it being drowned by a ballooning debt that now stands in excess of US$4 million, you know that the future looks gloomy. When the Zifa Headquarters has been stripped bare by creditors, who have attached various properties because of various debts, and every board meeting and media conference is held in the boardroom of the offices where the Zifa president, Cuthbert Dube works, you know there is something wrong with our national game.

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