Zimbabwe: Mini-League Stuck in Quagmire

29 October 2020

Senior Sports Reporter

THE proposed Premier Soccer League mini-league tournament is now uncertain and this could have serious complications on the resumption of the full domestic football programme next year.

In the event that the mini-league is held, this year, there is now even a likelihood that the tourney could spell into next year.

ZIFA spokesperson, Xolisani Gwesela, yesterday said they had already paid for the PSL players, and their supporting staff, to be tested ahead of the start of the group training session.

Gwesela, however, said the return of domestic football cannot be "overnight" after the game was frozen out for six months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have paid for the tests for both the PSL and the Women's Soccer League and, from our side, it's all systems go," Gwesela told The Herald.

"The Medical Committee will provide the schedules on how testing will be conducted and, as soon as the tests are done, we will apprise on the next move.

"As ZIFA, we are committed to the resumption of football but it has to be under strict health conditions.

"So, it cannot be overnight, it's a gradual resumption, remember we are operating in an abnormal Covid-19 environment which requires due diligence.

"The dates for the resumption of training, for PSL clubs, will be guided by the experts in line with their relevant health protocols."

He said the camps organised for the women national teams, who are scheduled to represent the country at the COSAFA Championships in South Africa, show ZIFA's commitment for the return of football.

All the national team players, and their supporting technical staff, underwent Covid-19 teats which were funded by ZIFA.

"Women's teams are already in camp preparing for the COSAFA tournaments," said Gwesela.

"This not only shows ZIFA's commitment for the resumption of the game but also the empowerment of the women's teams.

"The COSAFA tournament will give them an opportunity to train and regain their physique."

However, concerns about the resumption of the men's game remain.

The PSL Medical Committee chairman, Edward Chagonda, said they were yet to get the testing equipment from ZIFA.

"We submitted our budgets and requirements and we are still waiting for the response from ZIFA. I am sure the funds were approved but they probably have to go through red tape since we are dealing with money.

"Within a week we should have completed all the procedures and protocols. Remember it is a national thing and due diligence is needed," said Chagonda.

Reports have even started circulating that ZIFA, who committed themselves to footing the costs of the testing for the top-flight league's players, and their supporting staff, are waiting for further funding from FIFA to undertake the exercise.

The association's next Covid-19 bailout cash injection from the world football governing body is expected in January next year when they are set to receive US$500 000.

ZIFA had, in August this year, said the top-flight league, which were initially supposed to receive US$66 000 in January, from the second and final tranche, would not get any allocation in the first month of the new year.

"The other US$66 000 that had been earmarked for the top-flight, in the second tranche, will now be channeled towards lower leagues referees' fees when competitions resume," the association said in a statement when they reviewed the allocations.

"In retrospect, we realised that we had overlooked these officials while clubs in the lower leagues also suffered financial distress, if not worse than those in the top-flight.

"The revisions made to the allocations were derived from several recommendations gleaned from extensive consultation with all assembly members, PSL governors included.

"The administration fund initially set aside for PSL was slashed because we also realised that there was need for equitable distribution for administration relief among all affiliates."

But, it appears, ZIFA, who have already indicated they will need support from other stakeholders, inside and outside the game, including the government, to bankroll the cost of the game's return, might have to tweak their initial position.

It has become increasingly clear that additional financial injection might be needed into the top-flight league for the action to resume.

The mini-league, which has to be played under a bio-bubble secure environment, where the players, and their supporting staff will be isolated from the general public and their families, is meant to provide a test case, for the national game's preparedness to resume.

Failure by authorities to stage it might complicate issues for the resumption of the national game next year.

And, the signs so far, are not encouraging, especially after the clubs failed to get down to business, in terms of group training, as scheduled this week.

The initial programme was that group training sessions would resume on Monday, after players and their supporting staff, had been tested.

However, a number of complications appear to have arisen and there is now even doubt, within some of the top-flight clubs, the mini-league will go ahead this year.

The PSL yesterday indicated they were still waiting for the procurement of the Covid-19 testing equipment by ZIFA.

"The sports medicine team is still working on the procedures for the resumption of football," said league spokesperson, Kudzai Bare.

"I think, by the end of the week, we should be in a position to issue out a statement regarding all the issues related to this subject.

"But, for now nothing has changed."

In the event the clubs start their group training sessions next Monday, after undergoing the tests, the six-weeks of "pre-season" training they have demanded, before the start of the mini-league tournament, will end on December 14.

This would mean that the proposed two-week bubble for the tournament would run through the festive holidays and end just before the New Year.

The proposed tournament was arranged in order to prepare the national team for the upcoming CHAN competitions in Cameroon early next year.

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