from WELLINGTON TONI in Harare, Zimbabwe
HARARE – A BREAK in international football, enforced by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, has emerged a blessing in disguise for Zimbabwe.
The country’s football mother body, the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) anticipates the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will now reverse a ban imposed in February on the country’s stadiums from hosting international matches.
Ill-equipped dressing rooms, doping rooms and uneven pitches were the bone of contention.
ZIFA officials confirmed significant progress had been made on the Barbourfields (in Bulawayo) and National Sports Stadiums (capital Harare) during the lockdown.
This raises hopes CAF will lift the ban when its inspection team returns to the Southern African country for a further inspection next month.
“As you might be aware, we are under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic but it is our fervent hope that we will meet the June 15 deadline when we should be inviting CAF for another inspection,” Xolisani Gwesela, the ZIFA Communications and Competitions Manager, told CAJ News in an interview.
He said there had been considerable progress at the NSS (National Sports Stadium) to ensure it was brought to the required levels.
“We have seen great work – thanks to the government. We remain grateful to the government,” Gwesela said.
Opened in 1987, it is the country’s biggest sports venue with a capacity of 60 000.
The government has transferred NSS from the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing to the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Culture, a portfolio headed by the legendary Olympian, Kirsty Coventry.
The Bulawayo City Council-owned Barbourfields has also undergone a facelift after contributions by business-people to complement efforts by authorities.
The 40 000-seater venue is in good stead and has been partially approved for use by junior and women’s teams.
“This is testament of the work that has been done,” said Tino Machakaire, the Deputy Minister of Sport.
Machakaire is overall hopeful Zimbabwe will play its Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers at home, instead of neighbouring countries would have been the case after CAF banned its stadia.
The AFCON qualifier against champions, Algeria, had subsequently been pencilled for Orlando Stadium in South Africa but was halted because of COVID-19. Ironically, Zimbabwe and South Africa are in the same World Cup qualifiers group.
“We remain confident that going forward, our senior national team, the Warriors will play in Zimbabwe. I am happy that we are moving forward. Next week, I will be starting my rounds on the two venues to check on progress,” Machakaire said.
Gwesela said the national association would not rest on its laurels despite progress made.
“We will continue with inspections and ensure stadiums are brought to required standards,” Gwesela said.
Zimbabwe was stripped of the rights to host the 2000 AFCON because of stadia that have gone derelict since the country magnificently hosted the All-Africa Games in 1995.
Meanwhile, Rufaro, the country’s second largest, Gwanzura and Dzivarasekwa stadia will be renovated after Barbourfields and NSS.
Other venues like Luveve and White City Stadiums in Bulawayo were last renovated for some sub-continental games but lack capacity to host major international matches.
– CAJ News