The Sunday Mail
The crisis on local stadiums has been festering for the past two decades.
Back then, Zimbabwe lost the right to host the 2000 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) raised the red flag on the country’s capacity to stage the biennial showpiece.
The country’s stadiums were deemed unfit to host a tournament of such magnitude.
Twenty-one years later, Zimbabwe finds itself in the same situation, as CAF have banned the nation from hosting international matches at the National Sports Stadium (NSS), which has woefully fallen short of the current standards that are required by both FIFA and the continental body.
According to CAF, Zimbabwe’s last match at the 60 000-seater facility will be against Ethiopia in a 2022 World Cup qualifier on November 14, after which the moratorium allowing for the temporary use the venue expires. Amid the crisis, which not only affects the Warriors, but seven Harare Premiership clubs as well, ZIFA have implored Government to urgently convene a crisis indaba that should also include municipalities.
Harare giants Dynamos and CAPS United and fellow Premiership sides Black Rhinos, Herentals, Yadah, Cranborne Bullets and Harare City also do not have an alternative venue, as Rufaro and Gwanzura are derelict and currently closed. ZIFA communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela said the country could find itself enduring the ignominy of having to look for a foreign stadium to host its international assignments.
Gwesela, whose grounds committee is responsible for certifying local stadiums and also works in conjunction with CAF for international assignments, warned that it would be a sad day for the nation to surrender its dignity and be forced to seek alternative venues in neighbouring countries.
“We have a serious problem with venues in the country and I have termed it stadium national crisis.
“We need to have an indaba and the owners of these stadiums and Government in particular need to set the pace to ensure that these stadiums are renovated,” he said.
“We are in very dire straits, we are in trouble and we need to do something urgently as a nation. There are grave implications for a sovereign nation like Zimbabwe to be ordered to play at a avenue which is outside of this country. It is something that is embarrassing and it is our hope that we will rectify this.”
Some of the key areas which CAF want addressed, he added, include the installation of individual seats (commonly known as bucket seats), venue operating centre and an upgrade of both the main stadium and its B arena to meet modern standards.
They have also demanded an improvement in the general cleanliness outside the venue, including repairs to the perimeter fence and durawall. Despite a stadium crisis that has been raging for over two decades, Zimbabwe has ironically made three unsuccessful bids to host AFCON in 2004, 2010 and 2017.
Yet critical areas of concern that were red-flagged following a stampede at the NSS in 2000 that claimed 13 fans remain outstanding.
It is now worse, since both Rufaro Stadium in Mbare and Gwanzura Stadium in Highfield are not functional.
Barbourfields in Bulawayo was also deemed unfit by CAF to host Class A international matches, which involve the senior men’s national team. If the NSS was to be closed for renovations today, the seven top-flight clubs would be left without a venue. “All our stadiums are in bad shape and in dire need of renovation. It is a worry when none of our stadiums meet the minimum requirements by CAF or even the local criteria,” says Gwesela.
While the Harare City Council maintains that work will soon start at Rufaro and Gwanzura, the municipality has been singing the same tune over the last five years.
According to City of Harare spokesperson Michael Chideme, the local authority has signed contracts with partners who are interested in taking over renovations of both Gwanzura and Rufaro.
“We hope to see work starting soon,” Chideme told The Sunday Mail Sport yesterday. Gwesela, however, said previous engagements between ZIFA and the municipalities had not been fruitful.
“When we inspect these stadiums, we do it together with the local authorities, and most of them have indicated that they are facing financial challenges and are not in a position to renovate or build stadiums.”
However, the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation has since indicated that it will do the procurement of the bucket seats and other material needed for renovating NSS after the initial tender process was tainted by corruption allegations.
“When the tender process started, we had done some investigations into how much the seats and some of the things would cost.
“Unfortunately, when the bids came in, they were three to four times the amount, which, for me, was a red flag and showed different forms of corruption,” Minister Kirsty Coventry told our sister paper The Herald recently.
“The tender was cancelled and we were given the permission to do a direct procurement, which is what we are doing.”