The Sunday Mail
ORGANISERS of COSAFA tournaments have revealed that the door is still open for the Young Warriors and Young Mighty Warriors to register despite a decision by ZIFA in February to withdraw all age-group teams from international football competitions.
There had been fears the country could lose one of the key platforms to identify the next generation of Warriors following ZIFA’s move citing the Covid-19-induced lockdown.
Government has, however, since relaxed restrictions and allowed all sporting activities to resume, paving the way for ZIFA to register teams for the COSAFA Under-17 and Under-20 tournaments.
COSAFA secretary-general Sue Destombes told The Sunday Mail from Johannesburg that the regional body was always keen to have countries like Zimbabwe taking part in the competitions.
Destombes said with the two tournaments slated for December, ZIFA were still free to register the Young Warriors.
COSAFA will this year administer the football aspect of the African Union Region 5 Games scheduled for Lesotho.
“The Under-17 girls and boys tournament will be in Lesotho from December 1 to December 10, while the Under-20 competition is on from December 9 to December 19.
“The door has not yet been closed and Zimbabwe is welcome to participate.”
But ZIFA board member (development) Bryton Malandule is adamant they will not be sending any of the youth teams.
He believes the young players will not be ready for the tournaments because of inactivity.
The former referee, who also chairs the ZIFA technical and development committee, said although they were aware that Government is funding the teams’ travel to Lesotho, they were not “keen to be embarrassed again’’.
“Last year at the height of the lockdowns, we sent in our Under-17 and Under-20 girls to COSAFA and they performed dismally.
“So, as a committee, we recommended to the board that we should not participate and that was very dangerous to the girl-child in particular, because last year we sent players who had not trained for at least six weeks, and from a technical point of view, that is not right,’’ he said.
The same stakeholders who had criticised them for sending ill-prepared teams, he added, were among those pushing for the Young Warriors and the Young Mighty Warriors to be sent to this year’s tourney.
ZIFA’s plight might, however, be eased by youth leagues and provinces who have pledged to hold some competitions that could serve as platforms where national selectors can pick the squads.
Farai Dhliwayo, the outgoing chair of the Challenge Football League – a coalition of academies that are registered with ZIFA – said they were ready to assist the association with assembling the Young Warriors.
“I believe that ZIFA chose not to plan for this tournament and now they are making every effort to defend the position they took way back in February.
“ZIFA receive FIFA Forward Funds and they have to spend in order to develop.
“If they are not ready, we can help them assemble Team Zimbabwe, but we should not be denying age-group players a chance because next year they will not be in the same age bracket,’’ Dhliwayo said.
He said it was such tournaments where players like Warriors skipper Knowledge Musona, George Chigova, Eric Chipeta and Abbas Amidu first got international exposure.
Development coach Partridge Muskwe agrees.
“If we close the door on youth teams and shut down all avenues of development, where is the next Knowledge Musona or Khama Billiat going to come from?’’ Muskwe said.
Just like in 2007, this year’s Region 5 Games are in Maseru.