HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwean football is in the doldrums and analysts have blamed it on political interference, corruption as well as an ever-shrinking economy.
“In any country, football is judged by the amount of development of training grounds and stadia,” said Simba Chiminya, a Harare-based analyst. “In Zimbabwe, all that is left are white elephants, not fit to host an international match.”
The dismal display of the Zimbabwean national team and an early exit from the 2022 Africa Nations Cup (AFCON) in Cameron, exposed the pace at which football is sinking.
Zimbabwe was in Group B along with Senegal, Guinea and Malawi and managed just one win against Guinea after two defeats.
The losses brought heartbreak and hopelessness to football fans and administrators who admitted that “football in Zimbabwe was indeed dying.”
Administrator and former football star Alois Bunjira admitted that “the situation in Zimbabwe is very bad. We are at our lowest. We currently don’t have junior leagues, reserve sides, it’s in the intensive care unit.”
Junior development policy
Most Zimbabweans have expressed concern that the country is lagging regarding junior development, a policy that was disbanded by the Zimbabwe Football Association, years ago.
Football clubs took it upon themselves to develop their reserve sides, including juniors, but in the absence of junior leagues, there was no way football would develop, according to analysts.
“Football is no longer what it used to be where there would be a great deal of junior development, now it’s an avenue where executives position themselves to make money,” said Mlondolozi Ndlovu, a member of the Highlanders team.“Just like in cricket and other sports, there is widespread age cheating, hence the country now has mediocre players who are failing to qualify for easy tournaments.”
Bunjira said Zimbabwe is endowed with football talent but without proper development young players end up losing direction.
“We have the talent. The talent that we have actually come out of those youngsters who have done it on their own. We did not develop the talent.
“When you look at the diaspora now that’s when you see there is talent of Zimbabweans who are being developed out there. We should have been doing it here locally,” he said.
Lloyd Chigowe, a junior football developer in Harare, told Anadolu Agency that “we are currently coming up with the National Junior Football Coordinating Committee. It’s still in the formative stage and if this is established, we are likely going to see some changes in a few years.”
Bickering and political interference
Currently, football in Zimbabwe is in limbo owing to the suspension of the entire Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) executive board by the Sports Recreation Council (SRC).
“There are allegations the ZIFA executive misused public funds, which they received when they were attending the 2019 Africa Nations Cup, that they chartered a flight for journalists and supporters and that some board members sexually abused some females,” a member of the 53-member ZIFA council said on condition of anonymity.
He added that the bickering is not the first of its kind at ZIFA owing to national politics as, “only those aligned to the ruling party, ZANU PF, are acceptable to run for ZIFA executive post as evidenced by the sacking of Gift Banda owing to his opposition politics affiliation.”
Following the suspension of the board, FIFA wrote a letter to the SRC demanding the reinstatement of the board on or before Jan. 3.
That has not happened and Zimbabwe could soon face suspension from FIFA for alleged political interference as SRC is a sports body that is run by the government through the Sports Ministry.
According to analysts, all the fights are taking place because ZIFA receives at least $ 1.2 million each year for development and everyone wants power and a share of the cake.
Corruption and economy shrinking
On the one hand, the shrinking economy has further pushed Zimbabwean football underground.
Companies that have been sponsoring football from the junior level have been closing owing to the bad economy, hence resource fatigue.
As such, the few clubs still getting sponsorship are also struggling to pay bonuses, driving footballers into poverty.
“When the economy is on its knees like what we are experiencing, sports is used as a bait to enrichment. Poverty comes and players resort to match-fixing,” Ndlovu said, referring to the Asiagate saga that resulted in 80 players being blacklisted by the government and FIFA in 2012.
Match-fixing allegations came out when Zimbabwe played friendly matches in Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand between 2007 and 2009.
The matches were not part of any competition and it is alleged they were organized specifically for the purpose of betting. it involved top players, administrators and journalists, who were accused of receiving bribes to throw matches.
The then-Sports Minister David Coltart said in 2012 that match-fixing was affecting the performance of the national football teams, and 10 years later, Zimbabwean football continues to sink and teams are not performing as well as they should.
Source: Anadolu Agency