The Sunday Mail
SWITCHING the Premier Soccer League’s season to an August to May calendar will not be easy, given the country’s incompatible infrastructure, but the man in charge of stadium inspections says the move is worth a try.
The 2020 Premiership programme, which would have kicked off in March, could now commence, at least in August, as the nation battles the coronavirus, which has frozen global sporting activities.
Earlier this month, ZIFA hinted on a possible switch to the August to May season.
They, however, indicated that a resumption of play will be subject to a determination by Government.
“In its meeting on May 3, 2020, the ZIFA Emergency Committee noted that other football associations were planning to resume football operations around August/September 2020 and has tentatively set this date as to when our leagues will commence should our Government announce the complete end of the lockdown any day before the envisaged dates.
“For ZIFA, should the season begin in September, such will see us aligning our football calendar with the rest of the world,” read part of the association’s statement.
This has, however, torched debate within the football fraternity over the feasibility of a switch to the August to May season, given the poor drainage at most local stadiums.
Zimbabwe normally receives most of its rains between November and March — a period when the league would be in full throttle under the proposed change — and there are chances that some games will be washed away or played on waterlogged pitches.
But, ZIFA First Instance Body (FIB) chairperson, Piraishe Mabhena, feels the situation is now inevitable and the switchover should be given a try.
“It is not going to be easy, but it is worth a try considering the prevailing Covid-19 situation, which has paralysed the world of sport for the past two months and still counting,” Mabhena said.
The August to May calendar was experimented by the PSL in 1998 but the league reverted to the March to December season in 2001 after experiencing some hiccups, especially with the poor stadium facilities that could not cope with the rains experienced between November and March.
That is the reason why there are some advocating for a temporary switch of one season, while others feel climate change has rendered the argument on rains irrelevant.
“Our infrastructure is not ready for that shift and there will be drainage challenges during the rainy season.
“I know Mandava has done some work on their drainage system but the same cannot be said for other stadiums.
“There is need to ensure that the work going on at National Sports Stadium and Barbourfields includes drainage of these pitches and perhaps have a sizable number of rain compatible stadiums.
“We will need to work closely with the city fathers in Rusape, Kariba and Bindura to make some headway,” Mabhena said.
Black Rhinos intend to use Trojan Stadium in Bindura, which is owned by the nickel mine.
ZPC Kariba use Nyamhunga — a council facility — as do Manica Diamonds, who had to switch to Vengere in Rusape after Sakubva in Mutare failed the FIB test last season.
There are concerns over the lack of urgency by the Harare City Council in upgrading Rufaro and Gwanzura, which house some of the capital’s teams such as Dynamos, Yadah and Harare City.
Rufaro looks derelict from the outside and with just over two months before August, there are fears it might not make it in time for the proposed PSL start.
Harare City have also indicated that Covid-19 has disrupted work at both Rufaro and Gwanzura, which has been dormant for years.
“The lockdown slowed down works on the ground and affected ability to fund the works as revenues fell sharply,” said a council source.
Sunday Mail Sport has established that Gwanzura’s sewer line has been upgraded, while internal de-blocking and enhancement of drainage is now complete.
The turf for the Highfield facility has been bought and awaits laying while a solar-powered borehole has also been drilled.
Kariba Municipality revealed early this year that they had set aside a $2 million budget for the upgrade of ZPC Kariba’s home ground — Nyamhunga — but the Covid-19 crisis has disrupted some of the town’s plans.
Kariba Town’s director of housing and community services, Godfrey Magijani, said most of the big projects had now been stalled.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown us off the rails because cash inflows are now low.
“We have been thrown off budget because there is no money. Ratepayers have no income because of the lockdown and usually council is the last to be paid in the event someone has some disposable income.
“Henceforth, there is no capital for big projects. However, we are working on the stadium’s drainage system in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Power Company, sponsors of the football club ZPC Kariba,” Magijani said.
PSL chairperson, Farai Jere, has maintained that the start of the league depends on Government.
“The issue of the starting of the league squarely depends on the Covid-19 situation and directives from the Government,” said Jere.
Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique are the only nations in COSAFA yet to align their top-flight league calendars with the standard August to May.
But with majority of the local clubs still far from owning their own stadiums, football would have to depend on the municipalities to maintain the facilities.
Before the start of the last three seasons, no less than six stadiums have been deemed unfit to host Premiership games and more worrying is the fact that the trend looks set to continue.