Fifa ban, one year on….Zimbabwe remains stuck in football wilderness

Warriors players pose for a team photograph.

ON February 24, 2022, Fifa took the decision to suspend Zimbabwe from international football because of government interference in the running of the game.

This was after the country’s sports regulatory body, the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) suspended the Zifa board then led by Felton Kamambo over an avalanche of charges.

And this week on Friday marks exactly one year since the country was slapped with the suspension by the world football body.

Former Zifa vice president Omega Sibanda says the country continues to count the losses of its continued isolation from the international football family.

“We have lost immensely in the last one year in terms of junior development, welfare of the players, referees, businesses, coaches and every football stakeholder. It takes someone who doesn’t understand football to sit back while things are like this in the country,” Sibanda said in an interview yesterday.

“Football is big business for the whole country unless it’s someone who wants to deliberately destroy it. We have missed out on Fifa grants and royalties which are millions of dollars, royalties from Caf competitions, Chan, Junior and women World Cups competitions

“My heart bleeds for the girl child because their careers are short and they will never recover the year they have lost. The coaches have suffered, we have lost entertainment which is why people are no longer coming to the stadia and drug abuse and crime are on the rise.

Sibanda, who is also a Zanu-PF Member of Parliament for Vungu Constituency said it was time for officials from both SRC and the suspended Zifa board to bury the hatchet.

“My advice is let’s forget everything else and look at the primary need which is the return of Zimbabwe to international football. People must just swallow their pride and repeal the suspension on Kamambo and we will be playing international football next month. People need to feel for the football stakeholders because it has been immense torture for all of us and they have already embarrassed the country as we  are looking like people who do not think. We need to just respect Fifa,” he said.

While many believe that the country has missed out on a lot of opportunities, especially footballers missing out on international competitions in the past 12 months, a lot has also been done, spearheaded by the SRC in the name of cleaning up the local game and making a fresh start.

But many football stakeholders feel that the phase Zimbabwe football is going through is going to cost a whole generation of talented football players who cannot showcase their talent on the international stage.

Only last week France-based Warriors midfielder Marshall Munetsi took to social media to make a passionate plea to the SRC and Zifa to find an amicable solution which will see the lifting of the ban.

“As things stand we continue to lose a generation of talented footballers because they do not have opportunities to showcase their talent during national team assignments, this situation continues to harm not only the future of football in the country but it is depriving the general community of the downstream benefits that football can bring to the social economy of the nation,” reads part of his post in which he tagged the SRC and Zifa.

“I continue to implore the SRC and ZIFA, urging all the parties involved to find common ground and come to an amicable solution that will allow our football to survive as we move into the future.

“Our football needs us to find each other and for us to move in one direction and speak with one voice. The participation of our country at major tournaments stands to benefit us more,” he said.

Since the country’s suspension the national teams have missed out on participation in continental competitions such as Afcon and Chan qualifiers as well as Cosafa events.

Local clubs are also barred from participating in Caf club competitions. But the winds of change appear to be here to stay judging by what has transpired in the past which means Zimbabwe may be in isolation for a long time to come. 

An extraordinary general meeting, legal or illegal, saw the ouster of three Zifa board members namely Kamambo, Philemon Machana and Brighton Malandule by the Zifa Congress in April.

Gift Banda also returned as the acting board chairman and the SRC lifted their ban on the new-look Zifa board, a forensic audit was successfully carried out while the Zifa restructuring committee has submitted its findings and recommendations.

SRC commissioner Nigel Munyati feels the country has lost a lot more in the past two decades than what it has missed out on in the past year.

“Zimbabwe football has lost a lot more in the past two decades than the last one year. It’s only that people are only focusing on that one year but our football has been underperforming for many years. Something had to be done to save our football and people have to be prepared to take the pain,” he told Standardsport.

“As far as the SRC is concerned we have done our bit and the ball is now in Zifa’s court. It’s up to Zifa to make sure that they get the suspension lifted.

The last one year was critically beneficial for the future of our football because we were going round in circles for many years,” he added.

While the local leagues and local competitions were held last year a good number of players are now trekking to traditionally inferior regional leagues in Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia to further their careers.

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