The bid to host the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) could turn out to be a pipe dream for Zimbabwe whose infrastructure does not meet important CAF requirements.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
Strong lobbying to be granted hosting rights by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has started, with a seal of approval for the bid coming from President Robert Mugabe.
Bid submissions close on September 30, after which CAF will name the hosts next April.
However, Zimbabwe’s bid is laced with glaring shortcomings.
One of the requirements by CAF is that aspiring hosts must have staged other continental competitions that include the African Nations Championship (Chan), the Under-17and 20 Championship as well as the Women’s Football Championship.
Zimbabwe has hosted none and this could seriously jeorpadise their chances of being okayed by CAF.
So far, the strongest candidacy has emerged from East Africa where Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda have declared interest.
Rwanda has an edge over Zimbabwe after meeting CAF pre-requisites with a track record of hosting the 2009 African Under-20 Youth Championship as well as the 2011 African Under-17 Championship.
Rwanda wants to stage it together with Kenya and Tanzania and the countries have already contacted each other on the opportunity.
The 2016 Chan tournament will also take place in Rwanda who have already started revamping their infrastructure which was already improved when they hosted the youths tournament.
Kenya has better football facilities than Zimbabwe.
Also favouring East Africa is the fact that Afcon was last staged in that region 38 years ago with only Ethiopia hosting the tournament thrice before.
Zimbabwe could also be undone by the fact that of the last three Afcon editions, two have been held in Southern Africa and CAF would prefer it to be held elsewhere.
Mali, Ghana and Egypt have also declared contention to welcome the continental showcase in 2017 and all have ready infrastructure after having hosted before.
With less than three years to go before the 2017 Afcon kicks off, CAF is likely to give hosting rights to a country with established infrastructure that include stadiums, training grounds, road, rail and air transport networks that meet modern standards.
In a bid to improve its chances, Zimbabwe is courting neighbouring countries with the view of co-hosting the tournament.
But no southern African country has so far expressed interest to co-host the 2017 tournament.
Zifa’s pushing of several government ministries for the hosting of Afcon when it is doubtful Zimbabwe can be granted the rights, has been interpreted in some quarters as a bid to divert attention from their glaring failings in the running of the local game.
But the association’s spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela insists Zimbabwe is ready to host the continent.
“We have always said that Zimbabwe is interested in having Afcon here,” said Gwesela.
“Zimbabwe has the capacity to host major events. Look at the 1995 All-Africa Games, 2009 Cosafa Cup and in December the Region V Games will be held in this country. If people from all walks of life join hands and work together, it will always happen.”
Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi is also hopeful that Zimbabwe will welcome the continent in 2017.
“Sports events are a magnet of tourists and spectators in the stadiums are my market [tourists]. We want to make sure they are comfortable. Right now we need each other for a successful hosting of Afcon. Zimbabweans want to move forward and I am happy the general public is with us in this,” said Mzembi.
It would however take a substantial amount of money and work to give a facelift to the country’s poor football facilities.
Only the National Sports Stadium would require less work although its grandstands would require bucket seats.
Renovating Barbourfields to meet world-class standards would require a complete overhaul of the stadium.
When 2000 Afcon hosting rights were taken away from Zimbabwe, CAF described Mutare’s Sakubva Stadium as “just a hip of sand” and it has deteriorated even further since then.
As for Ascot, it needs to be constructed from scratch while the same could be said about the Colliery in Hwange as well as Mandava or Maglas in Zvishavane.
There would also be need for the construction of new hotels in those cities in a space of two years.
The country is served by just two international airports, which could create congestion for travelling teams and fans.
A budget of not less than US$300 million would be required but Zimbabwe is battling with a bleeding economy.