Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter
AFTER suffering the humiliation of being barred from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, for the sins of their game’s leaders, the Warriors now face the possible embarrassment of being forced to play their next home 2021 AFCON qualifier on neutral soil after the Confederation of African Football banned all stadiums in Zimbabwe from staging such matches.
Bulawayo’s Barbourfields, which had been the only stadium left standing after CAF issued a blanket ban on the National Sports Stadium, Rufaro and Mandava, has now been added to the list of grounds which can’t host international matches.
Barbourfields was given a partial approval, to stage such matches, depending on certain renovations — including the improvement of the floodlighting system at the stadium — ahead of a further inspection by CAF this year.
However, with no work being done at the stadium, since the last visit by the CAF inspectors last year, and virtually nothing being done to improve the National Sports Stadium and Rufaro, the continent’s football governing body dropped a bombshell yesterday when they barred all the country’s major stadiums from staging matches held under their portfolio.
Such is the embarrassing scenario that CAF even decided it wasn’t worthwhile to send another group of inspectors because virtually nothing has been done since the last visit by their officials.
With just over a month before Zimbabwe host Algeria in a 2021 AFCON qualifier, ZIFA will now have to seek an alternative venue in neighbouring countries for that match.
It will be the first time, in the history of the Warriors, that they have been forced to play a home AFCON qualifier on neutral soil although in 1969, this country was forced to host Australia in Maputo in a 1970 World Cup qualifier.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association would like to inform the football fraternity and the nation that it has received correspondence from the Confederation of African Football that our stadiums do not meet Confederation of African Football standards to host international matches,’’ ZIFA spokesperson, Xolisani Gwesela, said in a statement.
“Consequently, CAF has made a decision to bar ZIFA from using local stadiums in all upcoming international matches.
“The decision by CAF comes against the background of a CAF stadium inspection which was conducted in November 2019 and the subsequent inspection report circulated on the 1st of December which stipulated areas of improvement for our three stadiums, Barbourfields, Mandava and the National Sports Stadium (NSS), to be fully homologated.
‘‘While Mandava and NSS were completely struck off the roster, Barbourfields was provisionally certified on the condition that issues raised in the inspection report would be addressed.
‘‘Stadium authorities were notified of CAF’s position and the urgent nature of the situation at hand. To date, neither of the three stadium authorities has requested us to invite CAF for another inspection, a position which CAF has said led to the decision to bar all three stadiums from hosting international matches.’’
The work to be done at Barbourfields include, improvement of the drainage system, the installation of automated gates, expansion of dressing rooms, fully equipped anti-doping rooms, media tribunes, high speedy internet connectivity, functional ablution facilities and proper car parks.
Bulawayo City Council are not likely to meet those renovations in 30 days.
Gwesela said ZIFA will appeal to CAF against the decision. “While ZIFA is engaging CAF with a view to appeal this decision, we have asked stadium authorities to send us commitment letters detailing timelines on work that needs to be done before CAF comes for another inspection,’’ he said.
‘‘Once we receive such commitment, we will send to CAF. In this moment we urge all stakeholders to work for a common cause for us to quickly right this wrong which takes away our sovereignty.
‘‘We have been using stadiums which do not meet CAF and FIFA standards for a while now, but we need to put our heads together as a country to ensure that our stadiums are renovated to meet required standards.
“We unreservedly apologise to all football stakeholders for inconveniences that the decision has brought. We are hopeful that everyone, who has influence to expedite the process of bringing our teams back home, will do their part. Meanwhile, we have also started the process of looking for an alternative venue in neighbouring countries to host our upcoming matches.’’
The CAF ban comes against the background of a country that has been on a soul-searching exercise following the collapse of many sporting facilities. It is understood ZIFA are to convene an urgent board meeting to discuss alternative venues amid indications that South Africa, which has a number of stadiums and a sizeable Zimbabwean population, was the first choice.
Yesterday, Bulawayo City Council, in a response to ZIFA on Twitter, said:
“The first report, yes, we are aware of and our understanding was that the stadium should be refurbished to meet the outlined conditions by the next inspection (dates which we are awaiting you to communicate on this platform) outside those of the World Cup of course,” they wrote.
ZIFA had written to the BBC officials saying, ‘‘after completion of the recommendations attached, kindly note that before requesting a new CAF stadium inspection, the Club Licensing Manager of your federation should conduct a pre-inspection of the stadium and provide to CAF all the relevant documents and information.
‘‘CAF will only organise the new inspection visit once the stadium is brought to the required level.’’