Those not remotely interested in the boardroom politics of Zimbabwean football are probably wondering what the hullabaloo is all about.
Though one cannot totally dismiss vested interest and personality clashes being behind it all, the uproar is hard to ignore–especially when allegations of gross mismanagement and constitutional violations are flying thick and fast in the direction of the head of the country’s national football association.
An interesting take this week came from a former administrator I spoke to, who was unyielding in his view that Zifa president Philip Chiyangwa and his right-hand men in the association had wilfully violated the association’s constitution in order to prolong their mandate and then buy time to attend this year’s World Cup to be held in Russia beginning mid-June.
This is a simplistic way of viewing things, if one does not want to get mired in the intricacies of constitutions, electoral processes and all the other political complexity of sport. Yet, if you think about it, it is a theory that cannot be altogether dismissed.
Fifa invites at least three executives of every member federation to the World Cup, which is preceded by a congress of the world football governing body in the hosting nation. In Zimbabwe’s case, the delegation is most likely to consist of Chiyangwa, his deputy Omega Sibanda and chief executive Joseph Mamutse.
Apart from the extraordinary razzmatazz of the World Cup, the delegates also enjoy — among other lavishes — hefty allowances, first-class travel, and the best hotels on offer. As VIP guests of Fifa, the officials get to watch the first round of World Cup matches before flying back home, only to return at some stage during the knockout phase.
In addition, each federation gets an allocation of World Cup tickets for distribution in their home countries. In certain countries, the tickets have found their way on the black market, fetching as much as US$700. But here is the biggest question behind this all: Are Chiyangwa and his Zifa lieutenants not entitled to all these benefits, given that they are the legitimate office bearers of Zimbabwe’s football association and that apart from what we don’t know, all these handsome stipends from Fifa are above board?
Well, World Cup or not–some of Chiyangwa’s sternest critics will claim it is the least of their concerns. Their biggest concern is the “lack of legitimacy” of Chiyangwa’s administration.
Because Zifa failed to hold an annual general meeting in 2017, which would have paved way for elections in March this year, means Chiyangwa’s continued reign is now illegal, it is said.
The critics argue that at that AGM, an electoral committee to oversee the elections should have been put in place to pave way for the Zifa polls this March.
The election can only be held under the supervision of the electoral committee, which should be set up at least six months before the polls.
So aware of this technicality, critics said, Zifa — knowing its term was expiring in March — “conveniently forgot” about the AGM last year fearing possible electoral defeat before they had fully enjoyed the benefits of their positions.
Attempts last December to finally hold the AGM were unsuccessful after Zifa failed to give the constitutionally mandated 60-day notice to the association’s council. The AGM has been rescheduled to February 25, where the electoral committee is now expected to bet set up, meaning that the elections will only be held later in the year.
The irregularity in the holding of elections has also in some way affected the other administrative structures of the game throughout the country, some whose own mandates should have ended.
It is indeed a constitutional crisis for Chiyangwa, which has resulted in critics lobbying global body Fifa for intervention.
“Zifa now has to write to Fifa notifying them that they failed to comply with their own constitution in view of the elections,” said one critic.
“Fifa then must set up a ‘normalising committee’ to pave way for elections in the prescribed time. And in normal cases, no one from this current board should be on that normalising committee.”
It is a tough ask, and one does not see it happening especially at this juncture. Chiyangwa appears on top of the situation in as far as manoeuvring through the political terrain of the game is concerned.
Fifa seems to have Chiyangwa’s back, since his Gianni Infantino-endorsed heroics in helping dislodge Issa Hayatou, the long-serving boss of African football.
Those opposed to Chiyangwa also need to look inside themselves.
Opposing someone is one thing, garnering electoral support is another.
As we speak, no formidable candidate has yet dared to challenge Chiyangwa with only a matter of months to go to the polls.
All the hullabaloo aside, if elections were held in March, or any other time for that matter, will that candidate stand a chance and pose a serious threat to Chiyangwa?