Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor—
THERE is growing outrage in Zimbabwe football triggered by a high-ranking FIFA official’s shock, if not foolish, remarks that he didn’t understand why the Warriors’ disqualification from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers was generating a lot of anger in this country. Ashford Mamelodi, the FIFA development officer for Southern and Eastern Africa, is in the eye of a storm after shocking remarks in Harare, at the weekend, that he didn’t believe the World Cup was a priority, for countries like Zimbabwe.
Instead, suggested Mamelodi, Zimbabwe should concentrate on such tournaments like the African Cup of Nations and the African Championship of Nations where the Warriors had a better chance of making a big impression.
“I don’t know if the World Cup is a priority, I know it’s prestigious to be amongst (the participants),” the veteran football official, who is from Botswana, told Zimbabwean journalists at a media conference in Harare on Saturday.
“But my question, which should be answered by somebody in this country, is would you have honoured those (2018 World Cup) fixtures?
“For me, what concerns me president (ZIFA boss, Cuthbert Dube), people don’t seem to understand the extent to which ZIFA is in debt. If ZIFA was a corporate, they would have ceased operating, they would have been stopped by law.
“I like CHAN, I like AFCON, because there Zimbabwe has a good chance to go to the finals, they have done it before, you know what I mean, there is a reason to pursue those (competitions) even under limited circumstances.
“But I don’t know why there is so much (noise) about the World Cup, you know, they could have been drawn in Russia today and the next thing you guys (media) would have been on them for not honouring the fixtures.”
Mamelodi’s remarks are in sharp contrast to outgoing FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, who celebrated that, for the first time in the history of the World Cup, all the 209 nations, affiliated to the world football governing body, had registered to be part of the battles for a place in Russia 2018,
“For the first time, all our 209 members have registered to qualify,” Blatter said at the 2018 World Cup draw in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday.
“Butan, ranked last, won its first qualifier against Sri Lanka (and) will go through to the next stage for the first time. That shows progress.
“Football is more than a game, it’s building bridges, bringing people together, it’s emotion, it inspires. There is no bigger event than the FIFA World Cup.”
Former Zimbabwe international, George Mbwando, said the Warriors’ absence from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the first time the national team will not be part of the bandwagon since Independence, confirmed that football, in this country, was now “dead”.
Current Warriors captain, Willard Katsande, said it was unfortunate that his World Cup swansong adventure would end prematurely, without him kicking a ball, because he believes, at 33, he would still be too old to be part of the qualifying battles for the 2022 World Cup.
Yesterday, former ZIFA chairman, Vincent Pamire, said Mamelodi had misfired horribly with his strange remarks in Harare last Saturday.
“He doesn’t have an idea of what is called football development even though he is supposed to be the FIFA development officer,” Pamire told The Herald.
“We have already qualified for the AFCON finals and development, for us, is qualifying for the next stage, which is the World Cup finals, a better and bigger tournament.
“He believes that we are people who should always look backwards, and that’s very disappointing, coming from a man who should be encouraging us to dream even bigger so that we achieve more in this game.
“He should never think that we are Botswana, he got it totally wrong, and I am very disappointed by what he said and that is why I have been trying to call him so that I share my disappointment personally with him.
“His statement was misplaced and totally out of order and he should know, of all people, that we are a country that, during the Dream Team era, came very, very close to qualifying for the World Cup finals and we are all striving to get back to those levels, and even do better, and how do you do that when you are not playing in the tournament?”
Zimbabwe National Soccer Supporters Association leader, Eddie Chivero, said Mamelodi had belittled this country simply to drive an agenda where he was siding with those who were leading ZIFA and “destroying our game and national teams.”
“If Mamelodi feels that it’s okay for us not to play in the World Cup why then does he say we should remain a member of the FIFA family? He is supposed to be one of those fighting for us to play in the World Cup, whatever issues might be there, for the sake of the players and the fans and, instead, he comes here to insult us in our backyard.
“It’s every nation’s dream to play in the World Cup and that is why even the smallest and poorest countries are among the qualifiers and you even have countries like Somalia, which have been having all sorts of problems, playing in the tournament.
“To be expelled from the World Cup was a humiliation and for someone from FIFA to come here and say that it’s okay, we should not worry about that, is even a bigger humiliation and the best that Mamelodi can do is to apologise to the people of this country.
“His country, Botswana, is playing in the World Cup, do they believe they have a chance of making it and, if not, why are they then playing in that tournament if everything is about qualifying for the finals or making a big impression?
“We have never failed to fulfil a World Cup game, because we know its importance, and why should he come here and tell us that he doesn’t think we were going to fulfil the matches as if he knows what will happen in the future?
“We have long lost trust in Mamelodi because of his bias towards those who are leading our football and he should go and give his advice, that AFCON and CHAN are better, to Botswana instead of coming here to tell us such garbage.
“The World Cup is about the players and the fans and they need to enjoy that experience and not to be robbed of that otherwise, if it was not for that, then it would have been a tournament for the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Spain, those teams that have a realistic chance of winning.”