The Sunday Mail
Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry is impressed by the concerted effort to renovate football facilities across the country.
She toured the National Sports Stadium yesterday to check progress on work being undertaken at the giant stadium, as part of efforts to revamp the rundown facility that has been banned by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) from hosting international matches.
The continental football mother body barred all stadia in Zimbabwe from hosting international matches on February 25, stating that standards at all local facilities had, over the years, fallen way below CAF’s requirements.
Zimbabwe, which had hoped to use Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo as an alternative, will now host their African Cup of Nations Cup qualifier against Algeria on March 29 at Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto, South Africa.
Government has, however, sprung into action and work at the National Sports Stadium and Barbourfields has begun in earnest. And yesterday, Minister Coventry was at the 60 000-seater stadium in the capital to assess progress.
She was accompanied by Ms Euginia Chidhakwa, the Director of Sports and Recreation in her ministry; and Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) director-general Mr Prince Mupazviriho.
Veteran sports administrator Tommy Sithole, who spent 12 years working with the International Olympic Committee, was also part of the delegation that included ZIFA president Felton Kamambo and officials from the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works.
“I have seen some good progress especially with our pitch, and today (yesterday) what we focused on was just ensuring we are really following the recommendations that CAF have made,” she told The Sunday Mail Sport.
The turf is one of the major areas recommended for upgrading by the CAF inspectors who came to Zimbabwe last November. Another CAF inspection team is expected on Saturday to check progress on the work being done at the giant facility.
Media tribunes, turnstiles, doping rooms, changing rooms and ablution facilities are currently being attended to.
“I am happy to see the progress that has been made in a week. It shows teamwork, all the stakeholders have come together, helping each other to understand the recommendations from CAF and other international standards.
“The priority is making sure the recommendations from CAF are done as quickly as possible, but we also know that this will be done.
“The bigger upgrade will be in phases over the next year or two; we are just slowly getting things done, and get the facility back to where it was,” said Minister Coventry.
Some of the major stadiums countrywide, she added, would be given a facelift.
“The goal right now is to work on the identified stadiums.
“There is work we are also doing at Barbourfields in Bulawayo. We have looked at Sakubva in Mutare, we will then be identifying all other stadiums and start looking at what is needed at those other stadiums.”
Engagement between Minister Coventry and her Local Government counterpart, Minister July Moyo, has intesified in the last few days.
There is a push for the stadia management to be put under the sports ministry.
“Ultimately what needs to happen is a deep conversation between Honourable Moyo and myself, to discuss how we will then maintain the work that has been done, and that will come down to the management of the stadiums.
“I believe last week, in Cabinet, there was already some discussion about how management should be handled; that the sports ministry should be highly involved in the running and upgrade of the facilities.
“That is an area that I will push for,” said Coventry.
“In future it will be difficult to raise money to build a stadium that we do not have control over, so that is the first step that I will be taking to discuss with Honourable Moyo. In terms of new stadiums or new facilities, my focus this year, I am putting a plan together which will be looking at refurbishing the existing facilities that we have. “A lot of those are strategically placed within very big communities, and we have to give our communities the space to play sport,” she said.
Instead of building new facilities, she said, there was also need to look at refurbishing, revamping, rejuvenating the existing sports facilities to the expected standards. “Then, as a country, we look at areas that are lacking geographically in terms of facilities, which areas do we need to identify for stadiums, what kind of stadiums we need in those areas and make sure we are doing it strategically, and not because other countries may or may not be doing something.”
She said the renovations are coming at a huge cost to Government.
“The President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) has signed off, right away, with what we needed and everyone within Government recognises the urgency.
“The importance of realising that our stadiums represent who we are as a country. Everyone recognised the mistake we made to allow the facilities to get this way, but more importantly, everybody recognised that something needed to be done, and urgently,” said Minister Coventry.