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The cruel game

Independent Sportview By Darlington Majonga

GODWIN Stone is one name that would hardly rouse anxiety and intriguing memories among football lovers — from players to administrators as well as fans — but many in Zengeza would have

loved the diminutive man, popularly known as Banda, to be a celebrity.

Banda and his close buddy Cartwrights Kasikai would teasingly chant “chakalaka haunanzve” as they grilled pork chops and strips of beef at the gazebo that had become popular with boozers in Zengeza for the duo’s culinary skills.

He was full of zest, always shuffling between the braai stand and the butchery as well as the bottle store to fill up for Mudhara Chasi, Bra Gibba and others.

At times Banda would ask, politely, for a top-up towards a “chibhodhoro” or “scud” that he would normally partake with the likes of Kasikai, Mukurungai, Mhiripiri, Nyama and other colleagues who frequented the gazebo.

I didn’t know much about Banda’s private life except that he was staying with his stepmother. I have also learnt that he had a daughter, I’m sure named Wendy.

But what I know is that the people of Zengeza will not miss Banda so much for his braaing expertise.

It’s amazing that, away from the braai stand, Banda would still exhibit on the football pitch the dexterity that he would have preferred to be known for.

Indeed, the people of Zengeza will always talk of a great footballer Zimbabwe never saw. Those who knew Banda must be sad his shimmies, dummies and deft passes did not make him a great footballer that he should have been.

Debate has always raged in Zengeza that Banda was a better player than Alois Bunjira and Stewart Murisa, two of his former peers and team-mates at Darryn T who went on to find fame and fortune as professional footballers.

Wieslaw Grabowski will tell you of a young man who promised so much but failed to realise his potential.

And those who only knew Banda during our social soccer matches had always wondered why he never attempted to play for big clubs.

Well, he tried. But a knee injury during his budding years in the early 90s smashed to smithereens a career that all who knew him thought would take him overseas.

It’s heartrending that Banda has not left the legacy that he would have wanted.

Godwin Stone passed away last Tuesday and was buried two days later in Chitungwiza.

He did not only die a sad man but a poor one for that matter.

Banda should not have died at 32. Probably had Banda been a successful footballer he would not have failed to pay the $170 000 that Parirenyatwa Hospital wanted to diagnose what was causing his eye to pop out of its socket.

May Banda’s soul rest in eternal peace.

Banda’s death has just left me with no doubt how football — if not sport in general — is ungrateful, especially in Zimbabwe!

Even if Banda had made it big time in Zimbabwe’s top-flight football, would he have afforded to pay $170 000 for medical attention?

Your guess is as good as mine, but we know even the highest paid footballer in Zimbabwe does not earn that much per month. A Dynamos player would need to save his whole salary for six months to afford that.

Unless we see a total revolution in Zimbabwe football in the way players are treated and remunerated, we will continue burying them as paupers.

It made depressing reading last week how Dynamos, Zimbabwe biggest club that should be the quintessence of professionalism, hounded three senior players — Givemore Manuella, David Kutyauripo and Bernard Benesi — out of the club.

Their crime? They were asking for a reason to remain in football.

Club vice-chairman Simon Sachiti made a bad attempt at sounding holy when he puffed: “Anyone who brings the game of football into disrepute will not have a place at Dynamos and we feel it’s good for the club to get rid of such players.”

Well tried, martinet Simon, but how does asking to be paid adequately constitute bringing the game of football into disrepute?

Because you think $30 000 per month is enough to make ends meet for a family man employed by Dynamos as a footballer when we all know how hyperinflation has wreaked havoc in our lives.

What Simon will not tell us is that all the players had probably tried to negotiate in a civilized way a review of their pittance before they resorted to the training boycott.

What makes the whole farce appear as thinly disguised constructive dismissal is that only the trio was punished among the 36 players who were rightfully withholding their labour in the protest.

It’s very unfortunate that footballers have not been treated like any other employees in other sectors, with clubs willfully flouting labour regulations. Firing players without giving them a fair hearing is bringing the game of football into disrepute.

I don’t know where premiership clubs are getting this anxiety to arbitrarily fire or suspend players without following the same labour regulations they accuse the players of not following when asking for what they feel they deserve.

We had Francis Chandida being expelled from Buymore last month for allegedly influencing other players to strike, while Monomotapa suspended Sageby Sandaka, Takesure Chinyama, Daniel Zokoto, Vorster Chitemu and Godfrey Mangodze for allegedly masterminding a sit-in before a league fixture over a salary review.

I’m by no means advocating lawlessness and indiscipline at clubs, but I strongly believe players need fair treatment.

It’s regrettable football in Zimbabwe has not been viewed as business, leaving clubs to operate outside the confines of labour regulations.

But if most of our clubs have really turned professional as they claim, they should treat their players like any other employees in commerce and industry.

It’s high time Zimbabwean footballers realised the necessity of a players’ union that would educate them and advocate their rights as professional employees.

Footballers should have the right to bargain collectively — in good faith as expected of their employers as well — through representatives of their choice.

Players should have the right to strike lawfully when the collective bargaining process reaches an impasse, while the employer can also use a coercive method such as a lockout to force the two parties back to the negotiating table.

Should the two parties fail to agree, they may as well resort to arbitration or mediation.

It should also be the duty of the players’ union to educate footballers on contractual issues, medical aid as well as insurance in case one’s career is cut short by injury like what happened to Banda.

We have had clubs and agents who take advantage of players’ ignorance or lack of interest in contractual nitty-gritties, while most of the footballers themselves have only been keyed up by the signing-on fees.

Last but not least, clubs should simply pay footballers well. They don’t deserve their hollow celebrity status whereby their fame doesn’t go beyond stadia and media coverage.

Football is a very short career, which rarely goes beyond 15 years for those lucky to endure injuries. It therefore entails that they should be paid enough to afford them decent lives well after retirement or in case of unexpected career-ending injuries.

There are millions of kids out there who want to be Peter Ndlovus and Benjani Mwaruwaris, but as long as they see the game pauperising their idols, the future of Zimbabwe football is doomed.

Banda is gone, but how many more great stars will Zimbabwe and the world never see? And how many of them will die paupers?

Football is the most beautiful game as Pelé observed, but I’ve seen how ungrateful and cruel the game is on the other side!

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