Sunday, 1 March 2020

DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE PAYS OFF FOR WARRIORS


A RAY of hope has filtered through the dark cloud hanging over Zimbabwe football with revelations the Warriors’ blockbuster 2021 AFCON qualifier against Algeria could still be played at Barbourfields as originally scheduled.

The match is set for the end of this month and appeared set to be moved to a neutral venue, amid reports it was likely to be played in South Africa, after the Confederation of African Football banned all local stadiums from hosting games of such magnitude.

But, The Herald can reveal today that a diplomatic offensive, led by the COSAFA bloc, has been underway since last week to convince CAF to change their hard-line approach and allow the Warriors to host the Desert Foxes at Barbourfields. 

The COSAFA bloc, it has since emerged, were worried that should this match be played elsewhere, it could set a precedent in which no international football would be held in this country until a new stadium was built. They first reached out to CAF president, Ahmad Ahmad, who directed them to the organisation’s deputy General Secretary in charge of football and development, Anthony Baffoe, setting in motion negotiations which this weekend provided hope the match could still be played in Bulawayo.

Sports and Recreation Commission director-general, Prince Mupazviriho, as the representative of the regulator of sport in this country, was informed of the negotiations this weekend and what is needed for the country to regain its rights to host an international football match. The focus of those negotiations have been the need for Barbourfields, which had initially been given provisional clearance to host international matches, to undergo urgent renovations to, at the least, satisfy the bare minimum requirements of CAF.

There is agreement that this can be done within the next two weeks, and a CAF inspector would be dispatched to Zimbabwe to make an assessment, with the country’s third biggest football stadium likely to pass the test.

More work, according to the negotiations, would have to be carried out at Barbourfields after the match against the Algerians and bring the stadium in full compliance with CAF requirements by the time the next round of AFCON qualifiers are played in June. 

“There has been a lot of negotiations going on behind the scenes to try and salvage the situation since this decision was announced last week,” sources told The Herald. “The first thing was to reach out to the CAF president Ahmad to try and convince him to have his organisation review their decision for the sake of the football loving people of Zimbabwe.

“Ahmad then directed us to Baffoe, who is in charge of football and development at CAF, and we got in contact with him and he gave us his side of the story and what needs to be done because these are issues of compliance.

“We looked at some of the conditions and felt they could be met, at least, at the bare minimum so that the next match for the Warriors is played in Zimbabwe. Because Barbourfields is the best stadium in this country, in terms of meeting the bare minimum of the requirements and given it has been provisionally cleared, we felt that it should be the focus of everything, for now.

“Whatever work that should be done there should be done as a matter of urgency with people working in shifts, 24 hours a day, and we believe the facelift can then meet the minimum of CAF requirements.

“Here, you are talking about enlarging the changing rooms, improving the parking area, having the doping room, having a proper media enclosure, having fridges in the referees dressing rooms, fridges in the doping room and the teams’ dressing rooms.

“You are talking about having internet connectivity, at the stadium, so that the media and the officials can be connected to the internet as they do they jobs and you are talking about improving the floodlighting system. 

“All this can be done within the shortest possible time and that’s what has provided us with hope, especially the position taken by CAF, that they are ready to send an inspector this month to look at the situation.

“We think that what escaped the attention of many, including the Zimbabwean media, is that if the next game is played away from Zimbabwe, it would be very, very difficult to get international football back in the country without a new stadium being built.”

The COSAFA bloc also provide CAF with its president, Ahmad, and third vice-president, Danny Jordaan. This gives it an influential voice, in times of crisis, while the regional organisation has always regarded qualification for the AFCON finals as a sign of progress by its members. They feel Zimbabwe, which is one if their three strongest football nations, the other ones being South Africa and Zambia, could be at a huge disadvantage if the Warriors don’t use home advantage in their Nations Cup qualifiers.

Ironically, the Warriors were the only COSAFA representative at the 2017 AFCON finals in Gabon while Chipolopolo have missed the last two Nations Cup finals.

Meanwhile, former Premier Soccer League fixtures-secretary, Beadle Musa Gwasira, who has emerged as a voice of reason since the stadium crisis erupted, has set the ball rolling by donating 100 bags of cement for use in the work to be done at Barbourfields.

He has also pledged to provide the fridges needed in the dressing rooms for the match officials and doping experts.

“We have to show as a nation that we can get things done and keep our national teams at home and that can only be done through action and not talking because time is flying,” he said. “This is what has driven me to come up with this initiative hoping that if I can help Bulawayo City Council, as a proud citizen of this country, start working on the repairs needed at Barbourfields, others will also chip in because this is now a national cause.

“I have been following the conversation on radio and in the newspapers and I believe that the time for talking, and blaming others, is over and we have a crisis which we need to deal with as a nation. 

“The starting point should be sorting out Barbourfields because it has the least of requirements and that is why I have chipped in with this donation and I believe that two weeks is a long time to us to get everything, or at least what is acceptable, in order.

“Admittedly, we were all shocked by what happened but now the time is to fix the problem and it won’t be fixed by endless talk but real action because we just have to get our team to play at home, that is the most important thing, and we can only do that by improving our stadium.” Gwasira is a former Harare City Councillor who used to own Premiership side Lengthens who once represented Zimbabwe in the CAF Confederation Cup.

He said the challenge to get things fixed no longer just rested with the Bulawayo City Council but with the entire football family.

“We can’t leave everything in the hands of the Bulawayo City Council, even though they own the stadium, we have to help them because this is a national cause now and every individual or company who cares about football should come together in this challenging hour.” Herald

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