THE economic and political meltdown in Zimbabwe has once again proved a major letdown for sports in the country.
nday, the country’s bid to host the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2010 was thrown out by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) executive committee after the hopeful candidates presented their proposals in Cairo.
Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis has caused havoc in just about every sector in Zimbabwe. Sunday’s snub made sure that Zimbabwean football, and sports in general, becomes one of the hardest hit by the crisis.
While the 2010 Nations Cup is still four years away, by then no one knows where Zimbabwe will be — politically and economically. The crisis in Zimbabwe has gone from bad to worse in the past six years that no amount of optimism and patriotism can ascertain that things will be any better in the next fours years.
It is extremely hard to plan for the future in Zimbabwe, and leaving the planning and hosting of a tournament like the Nations Cup, whose profile has been growing every two years, to Zimbabwe would have been a Herculean task to an overburdened country.
The increasing profile of the Nations Cup as a major football event on the globe is something the powers-that-be at Caf do not want to damage, hence a country hosting future events has to prove beyond doubt that it will enhance that growing status.
Public interest is a big factor, and while Zimbabweans’ love for football in never in question, the disposable income of most of them has been eroded that paying to watch Nations Cup matches involving neutral teams will be an unaffordable luxury.
In the last Nations Cup, Egypt had a budget of over 90 million euro, which is a lot of money by any standards. While Zimbabwe had presented their budget in US dollar terms, the question of currency did not seem to be the issue when the Caf executive committee decided that the country’s bid was not even good enough for the final phase.
The big question was capacity. Is the Zimbabwe government capable of channelling hefty amounts of money to sports? The government has a dismal history of failing to progress beyond paperwork, and Caf had no reason to believe that it could change come 2010.
Yes, the private sector is the biggest sponsor of football throughout the world, but in Africa strong government support is needed. The Zimbabwe government has shown incapability to work side-by-side with the private sector.
The image of a key stakeholder such as government is crucial in determining the hosting of a major tournament. The Zimbabwe government has a history of clashing with the very private sector it is supposed to be in partnership with for a successful hosting of the Nations Cup. Econet Wireless, one of the county’s best-known corporate names internationally, was last year hounded out of the country’s top-flight league by political forces.
One also has to look beyond the economic and political situation to appreciate that Zimbabwe’s bid was just a charade. In terms of basic football infrastructure, the country lacks the minimum stadia required for the biennial continental showpiece. The four first-class stadiums, which is the minimum requirement by Caf for the hosting of the Nations Cup, are not in place.
If the country was not able to renovate its stadia after the tournament was taken away from it in 2000, what grounds are there now that this time round, with an even deeper crisis obtaining, the stadia will be upgraded?
The local stadia are in the same state, or even worse than when the 2000 Nations Cup was taken away, and it’s alarming that authorities would divert energies in another bid knowing all too well that the shortcomings of six years ago still remain unsolved.
Obviously the drive in the fresh bid was the misguided perception that Caf’s decision in 2000 was a political rather than a football decision. Zimbabwean football will never move forward if authorities harbour such cheap conspiracy theories.
There are currently two first-class stadia in the country — the National Sports Stadium in Harare and Barbourfields in Bulawayo. The other ones require loads of work in renovations.
The judges look at simple questions: if the tournament was next month, would you host it? Zimbabwe would not.