AS the nation joins the rest of the world in commemorating 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, I’m taken back to my childhood in rural Sanyati. Save for the hustle and bustle of the local bus stop which was the beating heart of our community, it was a largely quiet existence, where the virtues of community and respect for elders were extolled above all. It takes a village to raise a child they say, and that adage held true — I grew up with as much reverence for my parents as I did for any of our community elders.
The only exception was one of our neighbours, a portly fellow who I will not mention by name, whose love for the brew could only be matched by his penchant for picking a fight with his long-suffering wife. The vilest insults were thrown, much to our amusement and to the bewilderment of any adults within earshot. If it ended there, perhaps one could have forgiven it as frustration or a misunderstanding, but more often than not, it degenerated into full blown fights that required the intervention of a level headed arbiter, a role my father played rather well by virtue of his standing in the community as a teacher — a career not to be sniffed at, back then when chartered accountants, electric engineers and neuro-surgeons were as rare as an honest politician.
There were no winners on those nights when husband and wife went toe-to-toe and hell for leather, in our very own rural version of the rumble in the jungle. Bruised egos and untold embarrassment were often accompanied by the sound of wailing children, not much older than I was, traumatised by what had almost become a daily ordeal. When two elephants fight, indeed, it’s the grass that suffers.
This past week the general mistrust and ill-feeling between the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) and the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) came to a head in a public spat that is threatening to leave Zimbabwe football in flames. The incident that lit the blue touch paper was the unilateral suspension of ZIFA CEO Joseph Mamutse by the SRC, after allegations that he failed to follow procedure and had flouted regulations and protocols set by government that needed to be adhered to by teams with foreign assignments.
ZIFA cried wolf in a nine-page missive that rocked the SRC as if connected by a right hook. Credit to the Commission, they rebounded off the ropes and came out swinging with a response of their own, not as long, but equally as venomous.
Our neighbour’s wife was adept at this tactic — whenever her husband was on the attack she would manoeuvre the confrontation outside the family home where his size and strength were no advantage and her nimble movements coupled with her constant pleas for help would soon wear him out while attracting the attention of the many good Samaritans who could not tolerate the abuse.
And true to form, FIFA has answered the call. Football’s global governing body has traditionally taken a dim view of any perceived government interference in the sport. Soccer and politics should not mix. At least, that is according to their statutes. FIFA rules decree that a national football federation should remain autonomous and independent from the national government. As tensions continue to mount, the SRC seems unperturbed and have added further charges to the ZIFA docket, accusing the Felton Kamambo-led administration of failing in their mandate to develop the national game. And rather ominously, declaring that “Zimbabwe cannot compromise its sport development efforts for fear of FIFA retribution.” Brave talk.
While ZIFA’s failings are well documented and very little can be said in mitigation for their failures, the SRC needs to realise that the decisions they make will not only be judged in the court of public opinion, but in Zurich and on the international stage. Corruption and maladministration have never been frowned at in Zurich — if they were, very few football administrations on the continent would last their first six months in office.
The attempt by the SRC to pitch this as a government intervention in the national interest, rather than government interference, is a noble one, but one that may ultimately fall on deaf ears. The Commission is better served making decisions that will benefit Zimbabwean football rather than appeasing egos while alienating goodwill. Talk that corporate Zimbabwe has flown the coop is certainly true but hardly surprising when football chooses to wash its dirty linen in public in a spat that has been of little credit to either organisation and with the potential to cause the sport irreparable damage.
As the SRC and ZIFA continue to trade punches and insults like my former neighbour, those that stand in their respective corners must realise that at the end of the bout, football must be the winner and not collateral damage. It’s a situation that calls for emotional intelligence and for cool heads to prevail.