Tragedy of the Zimbabwe Warriors: Innovate or Deteriorate!

 

News that the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) has disbanded the senior national team, the “Warriors” would not have come as a surprise to many sport or football lovers. The Warriors’ stock has plummeted and they now sit at 98th and 26th on the FIFA and CAF rankings, respectively.

The throwing in of the towel by the former coach, Ian “Dibango” Gorowa, was the nail in the coffin of the once feared Warriors from Zimbabwe. What is the root of the malaise? The current leadership and past leadership might try to externalise blame for the performances of the national teams ‑ both junior and senior ‑ but the responsibility falls squarely on their shoulders.

ZIFA cannot blame the government or private sector companies, as in the past they has been great support for the game in the country compared to other countries. 

Due to the short-sightedness and appalling governance of the association, Zimbabwe football is in tatters.  

Zimbabwean football has seen the emergence of a predatory leadership hell-bent on embezzling and squandering the funds coming from the FIFA Financial Aid Program (FAP) without working to supplement that revenue stream. Very soon, just like other 208 Football Associations affiliated to FIFA, ZIFA will receive US$750 000 in FIFA grants as part of President Blatter’s drive to empower the Football Associations. This amount is not small change. It can make a difference to an organisation like ZIFA, especially if its utilisation is properly planned for.  

There is need to utilise this windfall to bolster football development programmes by ensuring intensive training of coaches at the district and provincial levels.

Given past accomplishments and the infrastructure available, the Warriors should now be qualifying for every Africa Cup of Nations event, granted that qualification for the World Cup is much trickier on the African continent. After they last appearance and participation at the show-case event for continental football, the Warriors have now missed qualifications for six, repeat SIX Africa Cup of Nations finals. 

This means 12 years in the wilderness of African football. Qualification for the African Nations Championship (CHAN), while it was good, does not adequately reflect the great potential for development of the game that is there in Zimbabwe. Qualification for the 2018 World Cup is and can be indeed a realistic target for Zimbabwe. However, the country must work to qualify for the 2016 CHAN and 2017 Africa Cup of Nations to have a realistic shot of going to Russia in 2018.

In the 80s and 90s, the Warriors’ brand and stock were rising. However, successive mediocre set-ups in the leadership of the association have meant that there are no conveyor belts of talent coming in to bolster the Under-17, Under-20, Under-23 and senior national team. The so-called giants of African Football used to be terrified of going to Zimbabwe. Nowadays, they consider trips to Harare or Bulawayo as picnics!

As the African elders say, “When a fish begins to rot, it starts with the head”. There is no way the current challenges of Zimbabwean football can be analysed without checking the leadership of the association. 

Although FIFA is right to stick to its guns in outlawing government interference in football matters, the Ministry of Sport and the Sport and Recreation Commission need to engage FIFA on the plight of the game in the country. In addition, the football leaders themselves at district and provincial level as well as others who make up the ZIFA Council, must really ask themselves whether the decisions that they are making are indeed “ for the good of the game” in the country. The Premier League clubs must also join this conversation with a view to improving “the beautiful game” in the country. Ever since the demise, by way of ageing, of Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwari, there have never been any other notable international stars to emerge from Zimbabwe, which is really pathetic, to use a euphemism. Zimbabwe has produced world-class players although a good number of them could not make it to lucrative European leagues, due to amongst other things, the isolation of the country due to sanctions imposed on the minority regime before the advent of independence in 1980. 

The years just before and after independence produced world-class talent in the form of Bruce Grobelaar of Liverpool fame, Sunday Chidzambwa, Misheck Chidzambwa, Joel Shambo, Stanford “Stix” Mutizwa, Ernest Mutano, Bethal Salis, Hamid Dhana, George Rollo, Alexander Maseko, David Mwanza, Shacky Tauro, Madinda Ndlovu, Adam Ndlovu, Moses Chunga, Ephraim Chawanda, Japhet Muparutsa, Joseph Zulu, Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda, Vitalis Takawira, Kennedy Nagoli, and many others. There was enough talent in the country for the late German coach, Reinhard Fabisch to help build what was referred to as the “Dream Team” for Zimbabwe. 

That raw talent is still there in the rural areas and townships but it needs to be developed and exposed to serious local and international competition starting at Under-15 level. 

Unfortunately, recent ZIFA administrations have done nothing but drive the sport into the ground.  

To their credit, the government and local authorities have maintained decent and reasonable stadium facilities throughout the country.

 Although, some of the facilities need renovation and maintenance, they are far better than facilities in other developing countries, not just in Africa but in Asia and South America. 

The tendency to blame government for everything that goes wrong must stop. Football leaders must take responsibility. 

The FIFA and CAF rankings do not lie. They are also a reflection of the calibre of leadership that the sport has in the country. Football is a business capable of creating employment and wealth for many talented Zimbabweans.

It must be administered professionally. No excuses!

August 2014
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