With Itai Dzamara
PREMIER Soccer League (PSL) secretary-general Chris Sambo sounded troubled when he suggested the introduction of morning matches to avoid accidents that have cast a dark shadow over the loc
al soccer scene this season.
The deep concern behind the conscience of Sambo when he bemoaned yet another accident that claimed a life when Sporting Lions were on their way from Hwange for a match underlines the serious crisis bedevilling local soccer.
It started with the Caps United trio of Blessing Makunike, Shingirai Arlon and Gary Mashoko perishing in March on their way from a match in Bulawayo against Sundowns.
Three players from Division One outfit Golden Kopje died in May following an accident when the team was coming from a soccer match.
Former Warriors leftback Francis Madziva is still out of action after breaking both legs when Dynamos were involved in an accident in August on their way from a friendly match in Kadoma.
Behind all these sad scenarios in the local soccer fraternity is what has emerged from all fronts as the number one enemy: lack of sponsorship affecting the game
Put in other words, the accidents are a result of the poverty that firmly has local soccer by the throat. The poverty, which for example makes teams travel all the way by road from Harare to Hwange or from Bulawayo to Mutare. Distances of up to 800 kilometres!
A team such as Sporting Lions, battling to pay players’ salaries and bonuses, obviously fails to secure funds needed to purchase fuel or hire transport for the long journey. They would also require funds to buy food for the team during the three days on the road.
It is a foregone conclusion that the majority of the poor teams can’t even think of budgeting for accommodation. The funds just won’t do. It therefore means they have no other option but to travel at night or under any weather conditions.
It doesn’t need a change on the time matches are played to circumvent these realities. Playing in the morning or in the dead of night is neither here nor there. It is inconsequential. Period!
The fact remains the poor teams would still need to travel the long distances by road and inescapably for long hours.
If for example Sporting Lions is to be forced to play their match in Hwange in the morning, that will either mean travelling the whole night to be there for the match or having to put up at a hotel there.
Now, the first option makes no difference from what is currently happening. It is just the other side of the same coin!
The second option brings us back to the issues of lack of funds for the team to put up in a hotel or lodge.
The PSL, also perennially battling against bankruptcy, obviously can’t come to the assistance of the clubs by say providing money for the accommodation expenses. The league actually expects revenue from the same poor clubs and is in a similar quagmire of financial problems.
What these realities mean is the need for a thorough revisiting of the whole system by initially acknowledging that our soccer is in an untenable situation in terms of viability.
It might even be worth the while to suspend all the operations and restart the formula. That might mean stopping everything and start by a clean up campaign.
Not the so-called traditional cleansing ceremonies. Not those ceremonies where people gather to drink drums of opaque beer, plead to some powers and watch crowds of half-dressed women swinging in clouds of dust, only to leave the real issues unattended and hope for miracles.
The clean up that is needed for our soccer is one that must focus on a review of each and every structure under the mother body, the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa). It must include destroying the wrong things, in leadership structures and operational systems followed by the appointment of the right people as well as establishment of the appropriate, harmonised structures.
All this must be done in order to lay the basis on which the sport can be revamped through attracting investment.
I think it is time we acknowledged that we have been parroting meaningless rhetoric for a long time by calling for sponsors to save the game whilst failing to emphasise the vital need for a thorough clean up of the structures.
It is unfair to expect sponsors to rescue the game whilst chaos, confusion and squabbling characterise the leadership circles.
In view of the tragedies that have hit the game this year, it must be clear that efforts to finding a solution inevitably must be centred on finding sponsorship. Sponsorship for teams so that they can be run on a commercial basis. So that they can adapt to the hyper-inflationary economic environment and afford vital services such as transport and accommodation.
That in essence boils down to the challenge of making the sport a viable commercial operation, right from the top — Zifa, PSL and the other leagues — to the players’ level.
Given what currently exists as the sport of soccer in this country, that naturally becomes an uphill task. One which probably requires a near miracle to be accomplished, especially going by the culture of profligacy, ineptitude and clowning endemic in this country.
But it is by no means impossible to turn a completely new leaf in the history of soccer in this country.
As reported in this paper last week, Zifa is working on a re-branding exercise that seeks to completely change the structures, cultures and warped values that characterise the game of soccer in this country. That could probably be a starting point in the endeavour to change the face of the beautiful game in Zimbabwe.
The Zifa revamping exercise must be all-inclusive, wide in scope and unsparing in areas where structures need to be destroyed or heads have to roll.
There is need for the Ministry of Sports to be involved, as well as the Sports and Recreation Commission, with commitment not the usual piecemeal approach.
The aim should be producing an investor-friendly soccer fraternity, devoid of many squabbles and controversy.
Only then could we start approaching members of the corporate world and urging them to invest their resources into soccer. Chances are high that there would be a positive response because the multitudes that follow the beautiful game in this country are a ready market for any form of mileage.
Then we could talk of pragmatic and sustainable ways of curbing the escalation of accidents, deaths and injuries that have hit us. Clubs could possibly be in a position to fly long distances, secure accommodation and generally make convenient preparations for away assignments.
Clubs could also establish medical aid and insurance schemes to avoid the desperate scrounging for assistance when disaster strikes.
That environment would also be conducive for the identification and development of talent and then there could be meaningful attempts at making this country compete favourably against others.
To restart or continue suffering tragedies, that is the question.