ON Thursday, Zimbabwe will be thrust on to the global football spotlight when FIFA president Gianni Infantino arrives for a two-day visit.
While there has been a lot of reservations from the Confederation of African football leadership over the visit, especially now when the drama related to the campaigning for posts to run the game on the continent is in full swing, Infantino has refused to be swayed by these political battles.
CAF president Issa Hayatou, who faces a very strong challenge for his post from Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar, feels Infantino’s presence in Harare at a time when scores of African football leaders will also be in the capital, could be used to campaign against him.
For a man who has ruled the game on the continent since taking over in 1988, Hayatou is suddenly seeing a lot of shadows as he faces his first credible challenge to his grip on African football which he wants to extend by an eighth term.
We are surprised that while Hayatou didn’t see any problem in inviting scores of African football leaders to Gabon when the 2017 Nations Cup finals was held in that country, as part of his campaign machinery, he now sees problems in the congregation of football leaders in Harare fearing that could be used to boost the appeal of his opponent.
It’s sad that the Cameroonian has tried to drag the FIFA boss, who has a right to visit any country that is a member of the world football governing body, into the politics related to the fight for the CAF leadership and now wants to dictate to him who and when he should visit in Africa.
There is no doubt that there is a huge constituency on the continent which feels that the game could be better managed by someone who is not Hayatou and, for the first time in years, they now have a voice and an individual they believe can replace the long-serving CAF boss.
This constituency has watched for years as Southern and Eastern African nations were treated as second-rate members of CAF by Hayatou and his friends while the Western and Northern parts of the continent have been receiving preferential treatment.
For there is no justification that can be used to explain why only two of the last 16 African Cup of Nations, which have been held under Hayatou’s watch, have been held in Southern Africa — with both of those tournaments being staged by South Africa — while the other 14 have been staged by West and North African countries.
No one, but Hayatou and his cronies can explain why a country as poor as Burkina Faso, which staged their Nations Cup tournament in just two cities, can be deemed to have better facilities than Zimbabwe who were stripped of our rights to host the 2000 AFCON finals on the basis that we were running behind time in our preparations.
No one, but the CAF president and his inner circle can explain why Gabon have hosted two AFCON finals tournaments in the past five years, will host the African Under-17 championship this year, while the next two Nations Cup finals will be hosted by West African countries.
Those who are calling for change in the way CAF is being run have a point and that the crusade is being fronted by leaders from Southern Africa isn’t surprising because this region has been badly treated by Hayatou and his people.
On Thursday, the Football Association of Zambia head Andrew Kamanga, became the latest high-profile administrator from this part of the continent to openly say that he will vote against the perpetuation of Hayatou’s leadership while COSAFA have said they will all back Ahmad.
Against this toxic background, we are cheered by Infantino’s decision to refuse to be drawn into the football politics of the continent by accepting an invitation to come to Harare next week.
We are also happy that the FIFA boss has said he wants to see his visit being used by the local football leadership to build a platform that will see the game in this country, with the support of the world football governing body, growing in the future.
We believe that Infantino’s visit presents ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa and his team an excellent opportunity to brief the FIFA boss of the challenges they are facing, especially how they can dissolve the more than $6 million debt that has been derailing their operations, and try and find ways of how the Zurich-based organisation, which is awash with money, can help them.
It’s good to realise that in an era where Western countries have adopted a hostile stance towards Zimbabwe, there are global leaders who are willing to see beyond the curtain of lies they have created and are willing to come here and explore ways of how they can play a part in helping a key sector of this country develop.