Football feels brunt of state failure

Enock Muchinjo

WITH indicators of a failed state abundantly evident in Zimbabwe — failing public services, economic decline, human rights violations — it wasn’t going to be long until football, the nation’s favourite pastime, felt the impact of neglect of duty by those at the highest level of authority.

This week, in a development that doesn’t totally surprise some of us, the Confederation of African Football (Caf) announced it had banned the country’s main football venue, the National Sports Stadium — of all grounds the traditional home of the national team — for failure to meet required international standards.

The Chinese-built multi-purpose arena, whose said capacity of 60 000 people is itself a ticking crowd safety time bomb because there is no structured seating arrangement, was handed over to the Zimbabwean government in 1987 and falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of public works.

Putting into perspective the collective national embarrassment delivered by the National Sports Stadium prohibition notice — come to think of it — only last month, our exciting generation of national footballers was being hosted in Lusaka, and scripting a milestone win over Zambia at a relatively new state-of-the-art Heroes Stadium in the capital.

Constructed between 2011 and 2014, the Heroes Stadium was described as “world-class” by Caf inspectors who visited the country to assess infrastructure when Zambia put up a spirited bid to host the 2019 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Both the Heroes Stadium and Ndola’s Levy Mwanawasa Stadium — another impressive facility which was opened in 2012 — were built under the tenure of Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya, the former African Footballer of the Year who headed his country’s national football federation between 2008 and 2016.

You can’t help but notice that in these Zambian projects, the Chinese government was involved, providing loans for construction: a point to ponder for another close ally of the Asian superpower just next door, Zimbabwe.

Chinese involvement or not, what can surely not be coincident is that Zambia was able to start and successfully complete construction of brand new modern stadia during the reign of a footballing icon, a great player in his heyday, and a man under whose astute leadership the country was crowned African champions for the first time.

Then compare with the state of affairs across the Zambezi River, here, where successive bosses of the national football association have been pseudo-sports administrators linked to the ruling elite, directly by party membership or by other association.

At the highest level of governance, you have the principals presiding over the decay of national infrastructure across the country for nearly four decades.
Then on the other hand you have succeeding generations of the establishment’s proxies, dressed in borrowed sporting robes, grossly neglecting the country’s premier football facility to the extent of exposing it to a humiliating ban.

Quite a classic case, isn’t it, of birds of the same feather flocking together.

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