Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has said European football owes a lot to Africa for the massive talent that has illuminated their stadiums and helped generate huge fortunes in this mega-billion industry.
Ceferin, who is currently in the country on private holiday with his family since Christmas, yesterday acknowledged that African football exports have helped change the face of global football over the years, hence the need to plough back to the continent.
African players like Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Pierre Aubameyang, Riyad Mahrez and many others have been making waves in Europe over the past few seasons. Zimbabwe also has players like Marvelous Nakamba, Tino Kadewere, Alec Mudimu and skipper Knowledge Musona who are currently plying their trade in Europe.
The 52-year-old Slovenian yesterday visited Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Sibusiso Moyo, in the company of COSAFA president, Phillip Chiyangwa. The Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation, Kirsty Coventry, was also present.
Ceferin said UEFA is prepared to assist Africa with capacity building and providing sports infrastructure.
“We know very well that African players are playing an important role in European football, so we owe something also to the other parts of the world not just Europe.
“And we are helping and I don’t know if we did something here yet. But l have already spoken to my people and l will connect with Phillip Chiyangwa, who is well known in European football and I think we can help quite a lot.
“Our principles are that we don’t send money anywhere. We send experts, we help in building infrastructure. But we don’t just invest and trust me, football-wise, this is the best organisation that you can have, not because of me and not since l am here but because football in Europe generates 85 percent of all the football in the world.”
Ceferin visited various tourist sites with his family that included Victoria Falls, Matopos, Binga and yesterday arrived in Harare from the Eastern Highlands in what has been a big adventure for the big family which has been driving themselves in a special vehicle convoy.
Ceferin has described his stay in the country as fantastic and the locals as warm and friendly people. He says he would recommend future tourists to tour any part of the country as he cannot particularly single out one destination having enjoyed all the tourist resorts he has been to.
He told Minister Moyo that he is definitely going to promote the country.
“First of all we loved our visit in Zimbabwe.
“Many people said to me ‘why are you going there? There is nothing even water (at Victoria Falls) is missing now’.
“I must say that l have seen friendly people, I have seen infrastructure, hotels and everyone is crazy about football.
“Really fantastic environment, fantastic flora and fauna, impressive.
“When we go back home, of course we will promote your country. As I understood there are two ways of us promoting it, one is, l am leading the organisation that is by far the biggest sports organisation in the world. We generate six billion Euros per year.
“So that’s one point and the other point is that our organisation is connected to all, let’s say to majority of the big companies in Europe doing different other things and they are of course also raring to promote. We will connect again with you, and when we know more we will have to know more. I don’t know much now, l just know that you are a rich country.”
Ceferin was in the company of UEFA head of security, a football coach, and a legal director of a television company in his homeland which broadcasts in seven European countries, when he paid a courtesy call to the Minister’s offices.
The UEFA president also extended an invitation to Minister Moyo to come and watch the Champions League Final in Instabul in May.
Moyo said he was happy that Ceferin and his family visited Victoria Falls and discovered for themselves the truth about the seventh wonder of the world. Upon which Ceferin revealed that his daughter was sceptical about the trip due to false reports that Victoria Falls had dried up.
“It’s very exciting to have a guest like yourself in Zimbabwe and particularly having made a choice to come into this country and spend your Christmas holiday and New Year as well and get into year 2020 in Zimbabwe. I am sure your tour in Zimbabwe, you have gone round. I understand you have been to Vic Falls and down to other parts of the country and probably you (now) know Zimbabwe better than we do.
“And we are quite enthused that you have been to Vic Falls, just in the aftermaths of a report that there was no more water. I am sure you can be the testimony of whether there is water or there is no water at all.
“I have the Minister of Sports, who has won so many medals, chief director and advisor.”
Whilst acknowledging the possibility of UEFA partnerships in providing football infrastructure, the Minister also extended an invitation for European clubs to visit Zimbabwe as he believes such a gesture would boost the country’s economy.
“Therefore we think that as you have come, yes our sports facilities (are) not up to scratch. They need to be enhanced but I think the interchange or visits by European clubs coming here during their recess period to train here and others and so forth, would attract quite a lot of tourism and resources not only for the humanitarian crisis which we have but also for the development of sport facilities.
“We would like to establish a symbiotic relationship between ourselves as a nation and UEFA and l think through you, we would appeal that such co-operation could be enhanced. When it’s enhanced, we should be able to take it further,” Minister Moyo said.