YEARS after Zimbabweans bashed and cursed Issa Hayatou in collective national anger two decades ago — the loudest ones blinded by ignorance and lack of exposure to standards — some of us had however since conceded, long before the ticking time bomb finally exploded this week, that our vitriol was directed towards the wrong target.
Hayatou, a long-serving president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf), became a hate figure in this country after Zimbabwe was stripped of the rights to host the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations finals due to sub-standard football facilities.
Several conspiracy theories in the wake of that very humiliating snub alleged that the Cameroonian Hayatou, or Caf itself as an institution, had waged some sort of vendetta against Zimbabwe — others even seeing the shadows of a murky Francophone warfare against our part of the continent.
In taking the Nations Cup away from Zimbabwe at the last minute, Caf ruled that the country’s stadiums were inferior and that those that had been undergoing renovation to host the tournament were way behind schedule.
And after hurling all sorts of insults at Hayatou — consumed by misplaced anger — those entrusted with duty in Zimbabwe neglected it and forgot to move on, to make things right with our stadiums and save the nation from further embarrassment in future.
No new stadium was built, and refurbishment work on some of the grounds listed for the 2000 Afcon tournament was abandoned after Caf dropped the bombshell in 1999.
Even as they play domestic top-flight games these days in Sakubva Stadium, rubble left by the abandoned work of pre-2000 Nations Cup greets you when you arrive at this eyesore of a sporting facility, a deserted construction site people call a stadium.
It is the same story across the country, for many years — shoddy football infrastructure everywhere — facilities decaying under the watch of both local authorities and central government.
So for people to jump up and down after Zimbabwe was this week banned by Caf from playing its international matches at home due poor stadia — some in our midst going so far as to blame a Sports minister who has been in the job for a mere two years — is absurd and pathetically deluded.
It reminds you of the same head-in-the-sand attitude and nonsensical blame games that had a nation being deceived by conspiracy theorists into turning guns on Hayatou instead of addressing a real issue, that our stadiums are simply not good enough.
Hayatou, who is no saint, has since been dislodged as president of Caf, blown away by an irresistible wave of chance in African football — ending his long reign a rather disgraced figure whose back many were glad to see.
But in the case of Zimbabwe in 2000, his administration cannot be faulted for exposing a glaring shortcoming of this nation. And while the individual is gone, the institution has remained. So once again — because it was not corrected — we have been reminded of that inadequacy, 21 years later.
This time in an even more ruthless manner.