Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ZIFA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze has labelled Francis Zimunya and his group, who are fiercely lobbying for the dissolution of the association’s dysfunctional leadership, as a bunch of vampires and criminals, who have no standing in the national game.Mashingaidze describes Zimunya and his team as a “group of sycophants” and makes sensational claims that some members of the ZIFA family have jumped onto their ship, and joined hands with them, in trying to boot out the game’s leadership.
The explosive boardroom battles have echoes of a dark period in domestic football, exactly 10 years ago, when rival factions — with Mashingaidze and Zimunya key figures on that minefield — battled for the control of the game in this country.
Mashingaidze was the chief executive of a ZIFA board, led by Rafik Khan, while Zimunya was part of a group of officials — who included Benedict Moyo, Admore Nyamuramba, Aaron Munautsi (late), Pharaoh Jele, Aaron Munautsi (late), Andrew Tapela and Leonard Nkala — who fought against the association’s leadership.
Zimunya and his group lost that bitter trench fight and were slapped with four-year bans from the domestic game, which were later endorsed by FIFA, but Mashingaidze did not stay long, as ZIFA chief executive, to enjoy the spoils of his victory.
He was soon swept away by the tsunami triggered by a global outcry over the 2006 World Cup tickets scandal, where tickets allocated to associations ended up being sold to shadowy agents in Europe at ridiculously huge amounts, which turned Jack Warner, then a powerful FIFA vice president, into a multi-millionaire.
Warner, though, spectacularly fell from grace when he was suspended from FIFA, leading to his eventual resignation from the world football governing body, in 2011.
Mashingaidze bounced back into ZIFA at just about the same time that the four-year ban imposed on Zimunya and his crew ended but the scars, from battles of a bygone era have not yet healed, and the old foes are engaged in yet another bruising battle.
Zimunya has been leading a campaign for a change, in the faces of the people running Zimbabwean football and has been working in tandem with other individuals who include former Premier Soccer League chief executive, Chris Sambo, and Zimbabwe National Soccer Supporters Association public relations executive, Paddington Japajapa.
They have even taken their spirited campaign into the offices of Sport, Arts and Culture Minister, Andrew Langa.
Zimunya’s group have not only targeted the removal of the ZIFA board, led by Cuthbert Dube, but have also aimed their guns at Mashingaidze whom they claim is a highly divisive figure who has plunged the association into a mess as he pursues endless personal vendettas at the expense of the national gaAme’s development.
They claim that in the past five years, as head of the secretariat at 53 Livingstone Avenue, Mashingaidze has built his little empire, taking advantage of the absence of an effective board that whips him into line, and riding on his close links to ZIFA president Cuthbert Dube, to launch a sustained assault on everyone he believes is a threat to his position.
Mashingaidze, who also has been sharply criticised by some members of the ZIFA board, has hit back at Zimunya and his team, describing them as a group of vampires and criminals, in a circular that he sent the association’s board members on January 1 this year.
“It is sad to note that some individuals with criminal records have conspired to lead a relentless campaign to unseat a democratically elected football leadership under Dr Cuthbert Dube,” Mashingaidze wrote in his circular.
“The group, led by Mr Francis Nyamutsamba (Zimunya), is pushing for the removal of the current Board and Assembly and are pressurising a number of offices to come to their aid.
“A petition was put together last December and ghost (petitioners) were put on the document. This group of sycophants has also been colluding with some members of the family of football and FIFA are currently monitoring the development from a distance.
“Mr Nyamutsamba has been previously banned from football for leading a failed vote-of-no-confidence against the Rafik Khan (ZIFA) Board.
“Mr Nyamutsamba has transgressed football statutes on occasions too numerous to mention.”
Mashingaidze also aimed at his guns at Sambo, accusing the former Premier Soccer League chief executive of having been sacked from the domestic top-flight league for questionable corporate behaviour.
He questions how a man of such a standing could challenge the ZIFA board.
“His lieutenant, Mr Chris Sambo, was sacked by the Premier Soccer League for dishonesty,” Mashingaidze wrote in his circular. The family of football should protect football from such vampires. There has been a disturbing trend of communication as evidenced by direct communication by some individuals with CAF, FIFA and Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture.
“Such conduct brings football into disrepute and the aforementioned principals have already complained about such conduct.”
The explosive boardroom battles in the national game come at a time when ZIFA have been under immense pressure from a football community disillusioned that the Warriors once again failed to qualify for the Nations Cup finals, currently underway in Equatorial Guinea, under the watch of the current leadership.
It’s the third straight Nations Cup finals that the Warriors have failed to qualify since Dube took over as ZIFA president in 2010, and Mashingaidze turned into his trusted lieutenant, and the national team reached an all-time low, during the qualifiers for the 2015 Afcon finals, when they were elbowed out of the tournament on the first stage of the preliminary round of the qualifiers by Tanzania.
Even the 2013 Nations Cup finals, where the Warriors needed just to beat two teams to make it to South Africa, ended in failure after their trip from a decisive second leg of the final qualifier in Angola, while holding a 3-1 lead from Harare, was somehow turned into a party flight by ZIFA with players travelling on the same plane as scores of drunken fans.
At the weekend, Zimbabwe Under-23 coach Callisto Pasuwa raised the alarm bell when he said they were running out of time, in terms of preparations ahead of the African Championships and 2016 Olympic Games qualifiers, which get underway next month.