Respect religious diversity of football players

Shingai Rukwata Ndoro Chiseling the Debris —
CONGRATULATIONS to Zimbabwe’s senior men football team’s emphatic win over Liberia at the National Sports Stadium in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. More credit should be given to the technical team led by coach Norman Mapeza and the players led by the captain, Knowledge Musona.

This week, it is submitted that there is a violation of the constitution by Zimbabwean football authorities and those coming in to support them. The violation is at both club and national levels and the earlier it is avoided, the better.

A few weeks ago, it was reported through the media that a former prominent Dynamos player and captain, Memory Mucherahohwa, had his biography published. Therein, he tells the world how much “juju rituals” the players were subjected to before each game during his days at Dynamos.

An owner of one Premier Soccer League (PSL) team has allegedly required that all club players and officials attend to his church sessions “voluntarily” while the technical team was supposed to take his “prophetic” instructions.

Over the course of last week, social media was awash with photos of some national team players receiving prayers during training.

The submission of this article is based on the assumption that the above is true and that the perpetrators of the religious practices are doing so in good faith. However, the facts at law below need to be observed, all the same:

First, Zimbabwe is a secular republic [section 1 of the Constitution] and a constitutional democracy [section 3(a)].

Second, Zimbabwe is a collective of people bound by:

1) the recognition of the inherent human dignity and worth of all [sections 3f, 48 and 51];

2) inalienable human rights and freedoms [section 3c and 49]; and

3) the recognition of the equality of all human beings [sections 3f and 56].

Third, section 60 guarantees the freedom of thought and conscience and the profession of religious views or lack of them. Every person has the right to choose freely his/her position toward religion, has the right to profess a desired religious view or not to profess any religious view, to engage in religious ceremonies individually or collectively with other citizens.

Fourth, religious organisations are private and voluntary associations recognised under the freedom of assembly and association in terms of section 58. The freedom to associate necessarily includes the freedom to disassociate. Likewise the freedom to assemble includes the freedom not to be part of such a grouping.

Let us observe that football teams at both club and national levels are not religious organisations as pronounced by the 2016 Edition Statutes of FIFA. Statute 2a describes football as promotive of “unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values.”

Statute 3 reads, “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights,” while Statute 4 explicitly prohibits discrimination of any kind and violation is “punishable by suspension or explusion.”

A “religious organisation” is a not-for-profit private voluntary organisation (PVO) established for persons to associate and assemble to primarily profess, advance and promote religious objectives, and fulfil or advance specific religious needs and interests.

It is expected to have the following basic qualifications, among other requirements, 1)a distinct legal existence, 2) object and purpose being to advance specific religious interests, 3) a formal declaration of religious principles and tenets, 4) a formal governance structure and definite process of selection, 5) religious membership qualifications, 6) appointment of religious ministers and leaders, and 7) established place of meeting of congregants.

Football as a sporting discipline has officials, players, partners and supporters who are religious and non-religious. This means that football activities should not have religious content by any measure. Religious practices in football activities would be considered abusive, discriminatory and dehumanising for those who are non-religious.

No football player is admitted into any team to earn a place on the grounds of a religion unless the team is a social outfit for a religious group. For humanity’s sake, think of one player who is not religious. What about one player who is not religious in the Pentecostal way, which is being practiced but belonging to mainstream churches where religious privacy and non-exhibitionism is highly valued? Are you not ostracising the one player who is of a different religion?

Let the private lives of players to be religious in their own way be respected without them complying to protect a place in the team or to please the religious interests of football authorities and sponsors. Let their footballing careers be based on merit and not how much they agree to participate in religious activities or “juju” rituals.

Football is a full time career for both players and coaches and they should not be distracted from the playing field. Keep religious activities and “juju” rituals away from football.

Feedback email, [email protected] or Twitter,@shingaiRndoro. A gallery of previous articles is found at www.sundaymail.co.zw/author/shingairukwata

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