Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter
THE Warriors’ chances of hosting the Desert Foxes in Zimbabwe were boosted yesterday when the Confederation of African Football confirmed they will send an official to inspect both the National Sports Stadium and Barbourfields next week.
CAF have also slammed ZIFA with a US$4 000 penalty, for late notification of the match venue for the big match.
The inspector is set to arrive in Harare next Friday for a three-day tour of duty, in what represents a major step forward, in the battle to try and stage the 2021 AFCON qualifier on Zimbabwean soil at the end of this month.
The inspector will review work that has been done at the National Sports Stadium and Barbourfields and then provide recommendations to CAF officials as to whether enough has been done for either stadium to host the blockbuster match.
It’s a positive development for the spirited efforts, which are being done by the Government, which has injected millions of dollars into the refurbishment of the National Sports Stadium and Barbourfields, to try and keep the big match on Zimbabwean soil.
The renovations will continue, in the coming months, so that the country’s main stadiums will be able to host the forthcoming AFCON and World Cup qualifiers without having to worry about red flags being raised by the CAF inspectors.
The Government has reacted swiftly to the crisis while other stakeholders, including the Herentals Group of Colleges and former Premier Soccer League fixtures secretary, Beadle Musa Gwasira, have also come on board towards the same cause.
Last night, a high-powered Government delegation, led by Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Deputy Minister, Tino Machakaire, flew to Bulawayo as part of the efforts to ensure Barbourfields, just like the National Sports Stadium, would be in a condition which can persuade the inspector to give the stadiums the greenlight to host the match.
‘‘Well, there is a huge development, CAF have just advised us that an inspector is coming to Zimbabwe and will be in this country between the 11th and 14th of this month and he will inspect the National Sports Stadium and Barbourfields,’’ an official told The Herald.
‘‘This is massive because it means that, for the first time, there is a possibility that the original decision, to put a blanket ban on all the stadiums in this country from hosting international football matches, can be reversed, that is if we get our things in order.
‘‘The inspector will, after supervising the two stadiums, compile a report which will be sent to CAF and a decision will then be made based on whatever recommendations that he would have made and we are confident that with the intense work that is being undertaken, we will pass the test.
‘‘The challenge we had, in terms of the last inspection, was that Zimbabwe was given conditions which have to do with what CAF need when a country is hosting any of their big tournaments like the AFCON and CHAN finals.
‘‘Those conditions are tough to meet and it could have come to that because there was a feeling that recommendations, which were being made, were not being done and that has a tendency of hardening attitudes.
‘‘The conditions CAF require, for the hosting of the AFCON and CHAN finals, are different from those of hosting the AFCON and CHAN qualifiers and that is why you can see that while Cameroon were hosting international games at their stadiums, without any problem, they could not host the tournaments in those stadiums.
‘‘That is why the 2019 AFCON finals were then moved to Egypt and the stadiums in Cameroon are being renovated, for hosting AFCON finals and not the AFCON qualifiers, and that country will now host the Nations Cup finals next year.’’
Barbourfields remains the stadium with the best chance of hosting the match against the Desert Foxes, in the event that the inspector gives the country the greenlight to host the match, given the Bulawayo facility required the least touch-ups as per the last report.
However, there have also been concerns that, should the big game be played in that stadium, there could be some security concerns given that it can only host about 25 000 to 30 000 fans.
There has been communication between CAF and ZIFA, with the continent’s football governing body asking the local association to provide them with a stadium in this country which has been homologated to host an AFCON qualifier.
With ZIFA now aware that another inspection is coming, they can advise CAF that both the National Sports Stadium and Barbourfields are open for a further review next week, leaving the decision in the hands of the inspector.
The diplomatic offensive has been in full throttle and is set to go a step further at the weekend in South Africa with a number of meetings lined up to try and resolve the impasse.
ZIFA communications manager, Xolisani Geswela, was not at liberty to discuss the case but CAF sources confirmed that an inspector was on the way to Harare and Bulawayo.
“We would like to thank the Government for the great commitment that they have shown in ensuring that our stadiums are refurbished and brought to the required CAF levels,’’ Gwesela said.
“Over the past few days we have seen noticeable progress on the work being done at B/F and NSS and this is clear testimony that our Government values sport as a key driver in economic development.
“We are still waiting to hear from CAF on the outcome of our appeal and the public will be advised accordingly.’’