Zimbabwe/Botswana: Botswana Football Boss Suspended Over Cosafa Debacle

23 November 2020

Botswana Football Association have set the template by suspending their chief executive Mfolo Mfolo over the age-cheating scandal that also saw Zimbabwe's Young Warriors being kicked out of the COSAFA Under-17 tournament in South Africa.

The scandal, which could open the can of worms on the scourge that has devoured continental football over the years, has seen players from four countries failing the MRI scans and ended up being thrown out of the tournament currently underway in South Africa.

Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini and Comoros Islands were on Friday booted out of the regional tournament in the Eastern Cape after at least one of their players failed the MRI scans done in South Africa.

The tournament, currently underway at the Nelson Mandela Bay, is also used as the zonal qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations. The organisers have been forced to restart the competition with only four teams.

Unlike Zimbabwe, who are disputing the results of the MRI scans conducted in South Africa, Botswana responded promptly to the allegations by suspending their chief executive and immediately launched full scale investigations to establish how their team ended up with over-aged players in their ranks.

Unfortunately for the Young Zebras, no MRI tests were conducted before they left for the tournament.

"The BFA was asked by CAF to do four tests which include X-ray, ECG, MRI and COVID-19 tests. We managed to do only three tests excluding MRI.

"According to our protocols in terms of team selection, we target players of 14 to 15 years so that they are in our structures of the team for at least 2-year circle.

"We ask the nation and the entire football fraternity to remain calm as we await a full report from CAF and COSAFA.

"The BFA NEC has with immediate effect set up a three-man team to investigate the issue, and we expect them to give us findings within a week's time. The BFA has also suspended its CEO, Mfolo Mfolo, pending completion of investigations," said a statement from the BFA.

Their Zimbabwean counterparts have disputed the results of the MRI scans carried out in South Africa.

ZIFA Medical Committee chairperson and CAF medical officer Edward Chagonda has challenged the decision by the organisers of the COSAFA Under-17 football tournament.

South Africa, Zambia, Malawi and Angola will restart the competition this week on a round-robin basis with the two finalists earning automatic qualification to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations finals to be held in Morocco next year.

Stakeholders feel a full scale investigation is also need to establish how Zimbabwe ended up in the embarrassing situation. But yesterday head of the ZIFA Medical Committee, Chagonda, said they had conducted their own MRI scans to determine the eligibility of the players prior to departure and were satisfied with the results.

Chagonda told The Herald that the association did everything above board, including dropping six players in the process after they failed to pass the MRI scans which were held in Harare before the team's departure.

He said he could not understand how one player was said to be over-aged after the MRI scans were again held in Port Elizabeth.

Chagonda said ZIFA are willing to take the matter to any arbitration until justice prevails.

"We are querying the decision and taking it to whoever it concerns because we did everything above board.

"The organisers are saying the player has bones which are about to fuse. Part of the cartilage has changed to the bone. Anyone above 17 has fused bones. They are saying the particular player has partly fused bones, so that is very normal and he is still an Under-17 player.

"I was talking to Eswatini doctor and they have a similar challenge. They tested and were disqualified unlike Botswana who did not carry out MRI scans.

"We have been using these scans from 2005, doing them at the same place, with the same doctor and myself also involved in the process," said Chagonda.

"We will not let this thing to just die. It's not acceptable. CAF and COSAFA have to play ball. I have sent emails and communicated with them registering our displeasure. I am a professional person and I know that we carried the tests well.

"Right now some parents, especially mothers, are not happy with me after we disqualified some players after carrying out our own MRI scans, and now COSAFA say we cheated again," he said.

The disqualification has angered many stakeholders. It was so heartbreaking as the technical team finally broke the news to the players on Saturday morning.

Zimbabwe had got off to a good start, sharing spoils with Angola in the opening match. They were set to play South Africa on Saturday in another Group A match.

But COSAFA informed ZIFA on Friday evening of the results and the sad developments.

In 2017, the Young Warriors went to Mauritius with a relatively young team which had 14 and 15-year-olds under the guidance of Moses "Bambo" Chunga.

The team conducted their MRI scans in Harare and carried their results to Mauritius.

At the tournament no further tests were done.

Zimbabwe's youthful team found the going tough losing 0-1 to hosts Mauritius in the opening match before they were hammered 0-5 by Malawi. The Young Warriors bowed out at the group stages after they rounded off the campaign with a 1-2 defeat against Botswana.

It was the same tale in 2018 when coach Tafadzwa Mashiri returned to Mauritius with the team.

Zimbabwe lost 2-3 to Swaziland and were again drubbed 0-5 by neighbours Malawi. In the last group match, they lost 1-2 to Angola to again bow out of the tournament at the group stage.

Last year, Zimbabwe did not participate in the tournament which was held in Malawi, only to return this year and booted out unceremoniously.

On Saturday, ZIFA sent out a statement responding to the announcement by COSAFA.

"The Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) received with great disappointment, the correspondence from COSAFA to the effect that our Under-17 team has been disqualified from 2020 edition after one of the players failed a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test.

"This is indeed surprising and questionable since we carried out similar tests on the boys and disqualified six for failing to satisfy the bone fusion criteria, taking only those determined to be of the correct age. ZIFA does not condone age cheating and will conduct further investigations on how, the players who were dropped failed the tests.

"All the boys that travelled for the tournament were tested at a reputable centre in Harare prior to their departure and the centre used a fairly powerful 1.5 t machine. The MRI results were reviewed by a specialist radiologist, Dr Z Sirdar.

"Our Chief Medical Officer Dr Edward Chagonda is also a CAF certified medical officer. Our team doctor Dr Rabson Zhou who travelled with the team has all the test results with him as proof.

"ZIFA is challenging the decision to disqualify our team and has requested COSAFA to avail the name of the player who is alleged to be over the required age.

"We have appealed against CAF and COSAFA decision and we are confident that we did not deliberately breach regulations governing the Under-17 tournament," wrote Xolisani Gwesela, the ZIFA spokesperson.

In Eswatini, the Ministry of Sport has reacted with disappointment to the debacle and have promised that heads will roll.

"The Ministry takes this moment to apologise to all Emaswatini for the huge embarrassment that this matter has brought to the country.

"The Ministry, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, wishes to make it clear that it strongly condemns any form of cheating in sport and will stop at nothing to ensure that all who were involved in such, and cheating in its entirety, are removed from our sport."

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