19 June 2017

Zimbabwe: Double-Booking National Sports Stadium Deplorable


The Warriors started their 2019 AFCON campaign in impressive style, with a 3-0 hammering of Liberia at the National Sports Stadium on the 11th of this month, with skipper Knowledge Musona the star of the show with his superb hat-trick. It was a magnificent performance by a new-look team, which didn't feature a number of players who were part of the successful 2017 Nations Cup campaign, including former skipper Willard Katsande who has since retired from international football.

More than the result, it was the stylish performance of the Warriors that caught the eye with their passing game winning the full endorsement of the big crowd that gathered to cheer them in their fortress which has now been converted into a slaughter chamber for visiting teams.

However, while we join the nation in saluting the Warriors for their latest success story, we are outraged by the chaos that we saw outside the National Sports Stadium where thousands of fans were trapped, battling to squeeze their way into the ground, to try and cheer their national football team.

It's outrageous that, in this day and era, our national game finds itself being burdened by such challenges and fans who would have spent their hard-earned money to rally behind their national team have to scale all these hurdles just to get into the stadium.

It's unacceptable that fans, including young primary school kids, have to undergo all that suffering that we saw outside the stadium just for them to be inside the ground to support their national football team.

Given that this stadium was the scene of the biggest tragedy to hit domestic sport in 2000, when 13 fans were killed in a stampede, it appears that we haven't learnt any lessons from the horror of that afternoon.

Surely, how can there be an explanation to the sight of thousands of fans, who couldn't make it into the stadium by the time the game started, deciding to return home without getting the chance to support their national team?

The explanation we have received from the ZIFA leadership is that the stadium had been double booked, with an international athletics event happening just before the big game, which meant that the gates were only opened at around midday instead of 9am as is usually the case.

This, according to the ZIFA leaders, meant that there wasn't enough time for them to process the huge number of fans to enter the stadium for this AFCON qualifier.

We can't understand how the people who run the giant stadium can double book it for two high-profile sporting events on the same weekend.

We can't understand the reasoning behind this, especially when it was apparent that the football match would draw a huge crowd, and those who run the stadium should just have told the organisers of the athletics event that it was unavailable last weekend because of the Warriors' match.

Especially when, just a few weeks ago, the same authorities shut the same stadium and barred any sporting events from being held there because it had been booked by Nigeria's Pastor Chris.

The stadium authorities should never place the money they get from double bookings ahead of people's lives and we are sorry to say it that, two Sundays back, we saw lives being compromised because some people decided to cash on having two high-profile sporting events at the same stadium.

That is deplorable and we condemn it with all the harshness that this deserves because, whichever way one looks at it, it's just unacceptable.

It meant that the Warriors lost a lot of voices, who were going to sing in their corner, supporting their cause, in that game against Liberia.

It also meant that ZIFA, who badly need any extra dollar they can get to finance their activities, lost a huge chunk of possible income as thousands of fans chose to return home when it became clear they would not make it into the stadium.

It's unlikely that a number of them will come back because they don't know if they will be met with the same madness when the Warriors play at home in an international game.

And while, at least, ZIFA have issued an apology for the chaos that we saw at the stadium, we haven't heard anything from the stadium authorities all week and, to them, it's business as usual.

What a shame.


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