IndependentSport View with Darlington Majonga
IT must be revealing that kowtowing “analysts” often wheeled out to spin conspiracy theories quickly realised that any attempt to convince the world why Zimbabwe’s bid to host the 2010 African Nations Cup fin
als failed for any reason other than what we already know would have been a hard-sell.
Honestly, it’s a pity if any Zimbabwean had a flicker of optimism that the country would emerge the best candidate to host the 2010 finals when the bid was a lost cause from the onset.
Even the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) must have tendered the country’s proposal to host the biennial soccer showcase with no confidence and knowing full well that it was only a matter of trying luck.
But that could have been stretching our luck too far — taking into cognisance the debilitating economic, political and social crisis that has pauperised Zimbabwe.
For every five reasons that Zimbabwe thought they would make it, there were twice as many reasons on the ground they would not succeed.
It’s a shame that many thought the fact that South Africa will be hosting the 2010 World Cup was a crucial rallying point for Zimbabwe’s Nations Cup bid when there is more to hosting a 16-team tournament than proximity to an organised country trusted with the world’s biggest soccer showcase.
In any case, Angola, Namibia and Mozambique — who were all bidding for the Nations Cup finals — are not lesser neighbours to South Africa.
What mattered really to the Confederation of African Football were such things as financial backing, stadia, security, transport and communications. Organisational capacity was also another prerequisite that showed any candidate’s seriousness.
Probably after the 2000 finals were taken away from Zimbabwe for unsatisfactory progress towards rehabilitating infrastructure and failing to get a government guarantee to bankroll the tournament, Zifa took it for granted that it would make it this time round.
But all that was wrong in 2000 had not been righted by 2006.
If anything, standards at stadia earmarked as venues for the tournament have deteriorated.
Worse still, the government is today in an untenable position to fully back any bid at a time private companies are battling to survive in a collapsing economy.
The government, hamstrung by an acute shortage of foreign currency, has no answer to the crippling fuel crisis Zimbabwe has suffered for the past six years.
Other critical imports such as drugs and power are still causing headaches among our rulers.
Inflation is running above the 1 000% mark, and the central bank has had to print money to fund key national programmes as well as pay salaries for restless civil servants.
Forget Zimbabwe’s pariah status blamed on President Robert Mugabe’s policies.
And somebody thinks Zimbabwe would have successfully hosted the Nations Cup?
Surely for all its well-documented bungling, Zifa would not have had a chance even if it had been serious for once.
In any case, hosting Africa’s biggest football tournament should not have been a priority for Zifa — who have dismally failed to get sponsorship for domestic leagues. This is the same Zifa that often struggled to host the Unity Cup.
If you factor in player registration quarrels and contractual disputes, then organisational capabilities in local soccer leave a lot to be desired.
For now we just have to watch from the sidelines to see who from the shortlisted — Angola, Nigeria, Libya and Gabon/Equatorial Guinea — will win the right to host the Nations Cup finals in 2010.
Instead of whingeing and shedding crocodile tears over our bid’s failure, Zifa should shift its focus to ensuring that the national team qualifies for not only the 2010 Nations Cup finals but the World Cup in South Africa as well.
Of course the 2008 Nations Cup finals are the immediate goal, but we don’t want to stretch our imagination too far by speculating whether preparations for the Ghana tournament have started.
For goodness sake, Zifa doesn’t need a government guarantee to be organised.
We are still waiting to assess whether the new board at Zifa is better than their predecessors.
But we won’t wait to remind them that the prevailing economic conditions will not be good enough an excuse for Zimbabwe’s failure on the field of play. After all Wellington Nyatanga and crew got into office fully aware of the crisis — and they have promised their ingenuity will bring solutions.
Zifa could start by diverting some of the resources it had reserved — if there was anything really — for hosting the 2010 Nations Cup towards preparing the Warriors for the same tournament Zimbabwe had hoped to automatically enter as hosts.
It is crucial at this moment to realise that the majority of the players who featured for Zimbabwe at the last Nations Cup finals will be on the wrong side of age if not in retirement by 2010.
Benjani Mwaruwari will be over 30, and so will be Tinashe Nengomasha, James Matola, Esrom Nyandoro, Zvenyika Makonese and Joel Luphahla — if they will still be good enough for national duty. Remember also that doubts have been expressed over the youthfulness of Shingi Kawondera and Tapuwa Kapini.
So Zifa’s priority should be to rebuild the Warriors — not to host the Nations Cup.
And the starting point would be the Cosafa Castle Cup.
Zimbabwe are the defending champions of the regional tournament, having won it for the third time last year.
This year’s edition is already underway, although Zimbabwe will only join in at the semi-final stage in August.
While Warriors coach Charles Mhlauri was courageous enough to field fringe players in the tournament last year, it was a bit worrying that half of them might have little to offer the national team in the near future because of their ages.
The focus now should be on the youthful players — and wonderboy Evans Gwekwerere quickly springs to mind.
There are many like him waiting to be discovered, or better still given the opportunity to showcase their talents.
It would be pointless to have players who might only live to cherish the Cosafa medals as the climax of their careers getting the nod ahead of promising talent in the regional tournament — in the first place meant to be a developmental competition.
South Africa have often been lambasted for “not taking the tournament seriously” by fielding third-string sides made up of greenhorns, but we believe they are the only country sticking to the original purpose of the tournament.
We won’t even bother to mention the Young Warriors who have played for the country in the Under-17, 20 and 23 age groups in recent years, for there’s little to remind us of those “promising stars”.
However, Mhlauri last year showed he has direction when he selected only locally based players for the Cosafa castle Cup, and we hope this time round he will focus only on genuine youngsters with potential to qualify the Warriors for the Nations Cup finals as well as the World Cup.
When Zimbabwe claimed their first Cosafa title in 2000, then coach Misheck Marimo fielded the following team: the late George Mandizvidza, Thulani Ncube, Kaitano Tembo, Mlungisi Ndebele, Bekithemba Ndlovu, Dazzy Kapenya, Callisto Pasuwa, Master Masiku, William Mugeyi, Nqobizitha Ncube, Robson Chisango, Luke Petros, Alois Bunjira and Benjani Mwaruwari.
But five years down the line, is it not worrying that only Mwaruwari still has something to offer Zimbabwe? In 2003, Zimbabwe won the trophy after fielding Peter Ndlovu, Energy Murambadoro, Dumisani Mpofu, Bhekithemba Ndlovu, Dazzy Kapenya, Zvenyika Makonese, Esrom Nyandoro, Ronald Sibanda, Richard Choruma, Calisto Pasuwa, Charles Yohane, Albert Mbano and Agent Sawu.
Mhlauri fielded Gift Muzadzi, Gift Lunga, Method Mwanjali, James Matola, Herbert Dick, Ashley Rambanapasi, Clement Matawu, Givemore Manuella, Ronald Sibanda, Francis Chandida, Sageby Sandaka, Brian Badza and Leonard Tsipa.
But how many of them will be there for Zimbabwe in Ghana, let alone for the 2010 World Cup campaign?
Let’s get our priorities right lest we render our Cosafa success futile.
Age cheating remains a bane on our soccer. It’s a sheer waste of resources and time to “develop” players who might no longer be good enough or would have retired should their chance with the senior national team come, say, in four years’ time.
So basically what Zifa ought to do is to rehabilitate all football structures and promote youth policy. Once that is in place, the government will have to justify why it can’t devote taxpayers’ money to such a national project.
At least Zifa does not need a government guarantee of financial support to be organised, if not serious.
After all, football — and other sporting disciplines — can temporarily relieve us from the daily grindings of life.