Hope Chizuzu Sports Correspondent
AFTER a five-year horror show, in which Asiagate hung like a dark cloud above our football, it’s refreshing that some light is filtering through the gloom. And, for that, let’s give credit to new ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa.
Clearly, he took good legal advice on how the saga was handled and settled with FIFA files long on detail on how the bans could not be endorsed, something that the previous board refused to respect.
Over the years, The Herald has committed acres of space to Asiagate and I have been a prominent player because of my vast links in the global game.
At FIFA, Asiagate has been a dead horse and, for a long time, this newspaper made that clear, using several authoritative correspondence from FIFA, which showed just that.
Of course, the onus for ensuring that the issue was brought to closure has always been with ZIFA because they are the ones who exploded the bomb.
It has never been, or will ever be, a Government issue but a football issue.
And, as shown by what happened in South Africa when the government tried to intervene in the match-fixing scam related to the friendly matches played by Bafana Bafana leading to the 2010 World Cup, the message from Zurich was loud and clear that this was a football issue.
When Chiyangwa took over as ZIFA president, he did not only inherit the massive debt, and various challenges facing the association, but he also had to deal with this Asiagate monster.
What is logical is that ZIFA have FINALLY played their part in complying with an order given by FIFA as far back as December 4, 2012, when Marco Villiger wrote to the Association advising them that their attempts to sanction journalists — Robson Sharuko, Josh Munthali and myself — was a violation of Article 3 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code and could not be enforced.
In short, FIFA said that journalists did not fall under the jurisdiction of ZIFA, or any football controlling body, and could not be sanctioned by such bodies.
Five days later, FIFA wrote to ZIFA advising them it was not possible to uphold the bans imposed on scores of players and officials, then running into more than 100, as the matter was not handled in a manner consistent with rules of national justice.
And, in any case, the evidence that ZIFA had used to sanction the players and officials, said FIFA, was not strong enough for such a move.
But ZIFA remained a stubborn lot and we had that scenario where our foreign-based players and officials, caught in this web, continued with their careers while their colleagues, based here at home, were sacrificed.
The irony of all this nonsense could not have been lost in the events in Pakistan this weekend where the country’s former captain, Salman Butt, one of three players from the Asian nation jailed in Britain for their part in a spot-fixing scandal during their tour of England in 2010, returned to the game, after serving a five-year ban by the International Cricket Council, and smashed a century in his come-back game. Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, the two other players who were jailed and banned from the game, are also back with the later even cleared to play for his country again and is part of the Pakistan team currently touring New Zealand.
Somehow, even though the case here wasn’t so clear-cut and scores pleaded their innocence with some even lodging expensive appeals that were never concluded, there were some people at ZIFA who just wanted this case to rumble on and on.
Even when justice was being delayed, they didn’t care that this was justice being denied.
They appeared not concerned that it also came at a cost of the Association’s relations with FIFA that were strained the moment ZIFA decided to act as if they were the be-all-and-end-all in world football.
However, this latest move by Chiyangwa and his body will surely foster an improvement in the relations and in the process release a lot of goodwill which had been withhold due to the senseless arrogance of the previous board. With FIFA elections due on February 26, the latest decision by ZIFA is a master-stroke hit, capable of unlocking a lot from the FIFA vaults.
The frosty relations will surely be mended and it is envisaged that when Chiyangwa makes the trip to the FIFA Congress in Zurich next month, ZIFA will be viewed differently.
And, crucially, as a serious organisation.
Chiyangwa may not have led a franchise to a title in the country but has certainly started very well in his position.
He has restored hope.
To get a president who admits to a wrong call is a sign of maturity.
We all make mistakes, and this ZIFA board have certainly made many, but their strength has been demonstrated in the way they have reacted once they make one. Chiyangwa and his board have done well and as the Warriors troop out to Rwanda for CHAN, problems of the past have been nipped in the bud with issues of player bonuses and upkeep.
Already fears of what will become of their financial commitments have been allayed — all the proceeds from the tournament exercising will be shared with the players.
Just a master stroke by ZIFA.
And all those frozen out by Asiagate, including a host who still plead their innocence, can now return to add value to the game and Chiyangwa and crew can only benefit from all those minds.