Zimbabwe: No Hope for Local Football Return

THOSE who are dreaming of Zimbabwean football's return to the field any time soon will have to continue dreaming until probably deeper into the year or even next year.

In fact, events on the ground are plain enough to see that it would be a miracle for football to be played as usual on a home-and-away league basis in Zimbabwe this year.

Less than a month into 2021, Covid-19 cases are rising as never before each day, and Zimbabwe is back into lockdown with all gatherings once again banned, and schools closed.

The question is: If the country can sacrifice to close down industry which makes the economy tick, what of football, which is more of a form of entertainment?

Events on the ground seem to suggest that the lockdown could be extended by another 14 days and so too would be the ban on all sporting activities.

There are other factors which are also pointing to a point of no return for the most popular sport, one of which is the precarious financial position of our clubs.

Sponsors are hard to come by in these trying times and most of our clubs cannot afford Covid-19 test kits, not to mention the finances for what is required to keep their players safe from the coronavirus while in camp.

On the other hand, the football authorities, Zifa themselves, seem like they have been overawed by the situation and do not appear to have a clue as to what exactly is required for football's safe return to the fields.

In fact, the Felton Kamambo-led Zifa cannot, under the circumstances, provide a timeframe as to when football can once again be played as this will only be determined by the extent of Covid-19 infections.

Even in some European countries -- for example, the United Kingdom -- football is under threat as each and every day matches are being called off over Covid-19 cases.

In Zimbabwe, football had initially been pencilled to return in September 2020, only to be postponed to December of the same year, and now, even March 2021, looks impossible.

However, with everything that is going on, it is perhaps time that the football authorities focused their energy on other challenges rather than football's immediate return.

One football fundi suggests that Zimbabwean clubs can still keep afloat by loaning out players to active African leagues in Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia and then bring back the players when action resumes.

The finances from the resultant loan agreements can be used to keep the club running and paying the salaries of those players back at home -- something that seems to make sense.

However, as the football wheel turns, we cannot also run away from the fact there would have been other problems to contend with had football been running today.

Our stadiums are in a deplorable state to the extent that even if football was to resume, most matches would not take place as the grounds are not fit to host Premier Soccer League (PSL) action.

Now is the time for Zifa and the PSL to put pressure on city and town councils to renovate their facilities so that when action resumes, it would be smooth sailing.

Already, the local authorities have models of what their stadiums should look like and the onus is now on those in football to make follow-ups and see to it that the right things are being done.

This should also extend to the National Sports Stadium. The fact that it has been allowed to host matches involving the Warriors and those of FC Platinum in the Caf Champions League does not mean that it is now perfect.

The reason why Caf is keeping fans away is not because of the threat of Covid-19, but because the recommended bucket seats have not yet been installed to accommodate even a handful of fans.

However, the immediate task for Zimbabwean football is how to keep our clubs afloat and maintain our players' survival. It is a tall order.

l For your comments, views and suggestions, email mkariati@gmail.com or WhatsApp on 0773 266 779.

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