Warriors loss, Bafana’s gain

Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter

AS the line-up for the AFCON tournament slowly shapes up, Zimbabweans have been left to guess what the situation could have been with their beloved Warriors had they not been suspended from participating in the qualifiers for the current campaign.

Zimbabwe were part of the last three editions of the AFCON finals held in Libya, Egypt and Cameroon, and twice they qualified as group leaders.

But they are set to miss the gig for the first time in years due to the FIFA suspension that was placed by the world football governing body last year.

Interestingly, Zimbabwe were in group K along with Morocco, South Africa and Liberia. And yesterday, the South Africans were celebrating their qualification after joining Morocco among the early birds for Cote d’Ivoire 2023 after their group was left with only three teams, following Zimbabwe’s elimination.

The South Africans missed the 2017 jamboree and the most recent 2021 edition, with Zimbabwe going to represent the region on all occasions.

But, this time it appears the Warriors’ absence has made Bafana Bafana’s qualification a lot easier and they will be back on the big stage in Cote d’Ivoire come January 2024.

Ironically, the Southern African neighbours – Zimbabwe and South Africa — were placed in the same group for the qualifying campaign. 

Bafana Bafana, who drew 2-2 with Liberia last Friday, confirmed their qualification with a 2-1 win in the reverse away fixture on Tuesday, while Zimbabwe were conspicuous by their absence from the back-to-back encounters. The Warriors should have played World Cup semi-finalists Morocco.

And yesterday, the issue of ZIFA’s suspension by FIFA came up in the National Assembly as the Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Kirsty Coventry was bombarded with queries by concerned Members of Parliament during the question and answer segment.

Coventry told the legislators that ZIFA and the Sports Commission were working round the clock to sort out the chaos in Zimbabwean football and there should be developments in the next six weeks.

ZIFA were suspended by FIFA last year on the grounds of third party interference.

This was in response to the step taken by the Sports Commission to suspend members of the ZIFA board that were facing serious allegations of misappropriating public funds during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals, corruption as well as the sexual harassment of female referees.

She said the Sports Commission and ZIFA have embarked on a comprehensive reform process, which has resulted in the establishment of a roadmap that was submitted to the sports regulator by the local football mother body last Friday.

“We are fully supporting the Sports and Recreation Commission in every step they have taken,” said Coventry. 

“The Ministry is fully funding the executive and the staff of ZIFA House so that they can run as normal.

“We have been financing them since the suspension and we will continue to do that; that is the role of the Ministry.

“The role of the Sports and Recreation Commission is to work with ZIFA to find a way forward. They are doing that and once they have agreed on that, they will take that to CAF and FIFA and we should see a result,” said Coventry.

“For clarity, the reasons that the SRC stepped in and suspended the (ZIFA) board were three main reasons. The first was that the Government had given ZIFA about US$2m that has never been accounted for.

“It wasn’t FIFA money but Zimbabwean money that parliamentarians should want to know where it has gone because it was never accounted for.

“Secondly, the (sexual harassment of) female referees. Four women have come forward; they have given their statement to the police and there have been investigations. Three of those (accused) members were on the ZIFA board. 

“One of the officials (former ZIFA referees committee secretary Obert Zhoya) has already received a lifetime (five-year) ban from FIFA, from their own investigations, with a 20 000 Swiss francs fine.

“So FIFA are now investigating the second member that was on the board that was sexually abusing and harassing these women.

“FIFA knew that this was happening in 2018-19 when these women filed an appeal with FIFA and got no response. They then came to the Government. The SRC and Government, my office, worked together with these women to ensure that police reports were done and statements were made.

“We then went back to FIFA and CAF. We requested for them to step in. They refused. We then stepped in and suspended the executive for the things that I have just shared with the Members of Parliament.

“As you know, FIFA then stepped in and suspended us from international soccer. We accepted that and we never asked for them to lift it. We don’t want them to lift it at this point until we have cleared and cleaned up our soccer. We are not doing as other members may say, ‘a disservice’. A disservice to who?  The corrupt?

“The Ministry and SRC will stand together with these women, along with (the fight against) the corruption that has been going on, for as long as it takes.

“Those are the steps we have laid out. The process now is the ZIFA executive have given their roadmap and the points that they want clarified and cleaned up. 

“They will work with the SRC and they will give those reports to CAF and FIFA and we will then go from when we get those responses,” said Coventry.

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