The Sunday Mail
THE last 20 minutes of the Chibuku Super Cup semi-final clash between Cranborne Bullets and Ngezi Platinum Stars was a painful reminder of the poor state of the country’s football infrastructure.
Ngezi beat Bullets 1-0 at the National Sports Stadium last Saturday, but the army side felt hard done, as the latter part of the match was played on a waterlogged pitch after a heavy downpour that affected the capital.
Cranborne Bullets coach Nesbert Saruchera thought the match should have been abandoned after it became clear the turf was no longer playable.
His Ngezi counterpart Rodwell Dhlakama was also not amused and equated those last 20 minutes to a game of water polo.
The match touched off debate over the capacity of local stadiums to host matches during the rainy season.
Almost all the nine stadiums certified for use by the ZIFA First Instance Board (FIB) have poor drainage.
All the 18 top-flight clubs are presently using nine venues spread across seven towns that were given the greenlight to host matches.
FIB, through its spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela, who is also ZIFA communications and competitions manager, acknowledged that the stadiums were indeed in poor state.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) would like to inform the football fraternity that the First Instance Board (FIB) of Club Licensing met yesterday (Tuesday) and resolved to license all the 18 Premier Soccer League (PSL) clubs who applied for licenses to participate in the 2021- 2022 league season . . . The meeting also noted that most stadiums in the country were in a derelict state and appealed to local authorities and the Government to renovate the stadiums in line with FIFA and CAF requirements,” Gwesela said in a statement on November 3.
The stadiums that were approved for PSL matches include Barbourfields, Luveve, Gibbo, Baobab, Nyamhunga, Ascot, Sakubva, Mandava and the National Sports Stadium.
The football season, which resumed recently after a 20-month hiatus, will now spill into 2022.
The Northern Region Division One League eventually got underway yesterday, while the Eastern Region Division is expected to start on December 11.
But the critical question is: Can local stadiums host football matches during the rainy season?
The state of facilities that will be used in the lower leagues is equally worrying.
Gwesela, however, continues to reiterate that Government has to move with speed to refurbish the facilities.
“Indeed, I have termed this a national crisis where a lot of PSL teams are sharing one stadium.
“It is really a sad state of affairs and, like I said, it is our appeal to the Government, to the stadium owners to move with speed and ensure that these facilities are renovated to meet the minimum standards prescribed by CAF,” he said.
“We have been preaching the gospel of renovating stadiums for over six years now and it is painful to see stadiums in such a derelict and terrible state in this day.
“Now our one and only stadium (National Sports Stadium), which had been provisionally homologated, is banned. Should we not renovate the stadium, the upcoming international fixtures in March will not be played at the National Sports Stadium.
“It will be very embarrassing for our country to surrender our sovereignty and be forced to play our matches outside Zimbabwe.”
The domestic Premiership will continue until end of December before taking a break in January when the Africa Cup of Nations finals take place in Cameroon.
In light of the forecast by the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) that the October to November period is usually characterised by afternoon thundershowers, some quarters have been pushing for mid-morning kick-offs.
However, MSD forecaster James Ngoma told The Sunday Mail Sport that football matches could be played in December without much hassles.
“From November into December, the main rains begin. These can occur any time – morning, noon or night. These are less violent but can go on for hours.
“Matches can even continue while these go on, except games like cricket and tennis. These rains may even occur until the first weeks of January,” he said.
“We then have a mid-season dry spell which is usually sunny, dry and hot . . .
“After that period, we then have afternoon thunderstorms once more and these can last up to March.”
PSL communications and media liaison officer Kudzai Bare said the league had no intention of ending its 2021 programme prematurely.
“As PSL, it’s unfortunate that we do not have control over the weather; we can only hope the recommendations made by the First Instance Board on stadia are attended to,” said Bare.
“The FIB has been inspecting stadiums and they made some recommendations on areas that need attention, including the drainage issue. We hope that will be addressed by the stadium owners . . .
“As for the rains, we will look at the issue on a match-by-match basis, but we don’t intend to end our 2021 programme prematurely.
“We plan to break end December and resume in 2022.”
There is, however, hope.
Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube said a significant chunk of the $7,8 billion allocated to the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation in the 2022 Budget will be invested in sports and recreation facilities.
“Government will also establish and modernise the training institutions with the capacity to identify and nurture talent, starting from grassroots level, with a bias on rural areas,’’ he said.
“This includes resuscitation of sport, arts and recreation facilities throughout the country to meet international standards, taking into account people with disabilities for recreational activities, cognisant that arts provide potential employment creation avenues through drama, visual and media arts, dance, music and literature,” he said.
Investment in sports and recreation facilities, he added, allows the country to harness individual potential and participation in local, regional and international sport competitions that increase citizen’s income and well-being.