EDITORIAL COMMENT: Is our national sport now on its deathbed?

Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT: Is our national sport now on its deathbed? | The Herald September 7, 2019

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Is our national sport now on its deathbed?
Chamu Chiwanza

ZIMBABWE Warriors’ humiliating defeat at the hands of Somalia, the world’s lowest ranked football nation, is another painful reminder of administrative challenges devouring our national sport.

That we became the first country to lose a World Cup qualifier to the Ocean Stars, who have been forced to play away from home because of civil strife in Somalia, speaks volumes of how we are rapidly losing our way in football.

And, that this shocking and unacceptable defeat came just four days after the embarrassment of failing to send the Mighty Warriors into battle, at home for that matter, reflects badly on our national sport.

Football, by its nature, is a sport that has always sprung surprises and produced shock results, now and again, like Comoros holding Cameroon in the last AFCON qualifiers.

Or Madagascar, on their debut appearance at the Nation’s Cup finals, topping their group in Egypt and then defeating two-time champions, the Democratic Republic of Congo, to reach the quarter-finals.

But, to lose to Somalia is something else, and that no other country had lost to them before in a World Cup qualifier, until our collapse in Djibouti on Thursday, is indicative of how badly we are losing our way.

Only three months ago, we charmed the world with a brave show in which we stood toe-to-toe with record African champions Egypt, in their backyard, before going down 0-1 in the 2019 AFCON opener.

A few months earlier we had ended top of our AFCON qualifying group, which included the DRC, Congo-Brazzaville and Liberia, winning it easily, after just one defeat in our six qualifying matches.

Only last December, we were named by CAF as one of the best six performing national teams in Africa for the year, with the continent having been impressed by our victory in Kinshasa against the DRC and the draw in Brazzaville.

However, it’s all falling apart for us at an alarming rate and the defeat at the hands of Somalia was as bad as it gets and a reminder that our national sport is now on its deathbed.

And, there is no one else to blame for this apart from ZIFA leaders who have seemingly transformed themselves into shameless merchants of destruction, rather than construction, of our football.

When Felton Kamambo was elected ZIFA president in December last year, there was a wave of expectation that he could provide the cool head that was needed to drive our football to another level.

He appeared genuine, someone who was there to serve the game rather than a person who wanted to use the game to gain from it, either financially or materially.

He spoke the right words, preached unity, lifted all the suspensions that had been imposed on a number of individuals and we all believed him and praised him.

But, nine months into his first year in charge of our football, he has proved to be a disaster — somehow concentrating on doing the very things he opposed when he was campaigning for office.

Maybe, we should have known just a month after he came into office when his board suspended vice-president Gift Banda and, eight months later, that case remains unresolved.

Then, we saw board member Chamu Chiwanza also being suspended on some flimsy charges while so much energy appears to have been invested into fighting COSAFA president Philip Chiyangwa rather than executing their mandate to develop the game.

Ahead of this World Cup qualifier, the ZIFA leaders ordered caretaker coach Joey Antipas not to select some key players, including skipper Knowledge Musona, whom they accuse of leading the rebellion which kept rocking the Warriors camp in Cairo over payments.

The team that was selected never even had a day to train together, something they badly needed since they had not played together as a team before, and it was very clear during the match they were a disjointed unit.

We warned ZIFA, not so long ago, that the payment structure they had come up with, including a winning bonus of just $2 000, needed to be reviewed because it didn’t provide the motivation that professional footballers need to do well for their country.

Of course, they didn’t listen and the result has been this embarrassment which has now seen us becoming the first country to lose to Somalia in a World Cup qualifier.

Surely, we can’t keep going like this and something will have to give and, if the ZIFA leaders really cared for our game, they would have quit their roles and let others, who have fresh and better ideas, come on board to lead.