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Zifa mum on football return

WHILE there is a general air of relief and excitement following the approval for the gradual and phased return of football in the country, the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) has been conspicuous by its low-spirited reaction to the news.

BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE

For an association that has been earnestly pushing for the resumption of football in the country, Zifa could have at least celebrated a vital victory in the quest for resumption of their core business.

By yesterday evening, the local football mother body was still conspicuous by its silence following the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC)’s announcement on Friday.

While social media was abuzz with elation at the news of the return of football activity for Premier Soccer League (PSD), Women’s Soccer League and national teams as well of the feasibility thereof, the association’s social media handles were completely mum.

The Felton Kamambo-led Zifa was also reluctant to comment on the development yesterday.

“We are still studying the letter and we will provide an action plan in the coming weeks,” Zifa communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela told Standardsport.

Football activity in the country has been on lockdown since the outbreak of the coronavirus on the eve of the start of the local league in March.

Big European leagues opened up the sport in June and July, as well as the South African and Moroccan leagues in the case of Africa, but questions remained on local football’s ability to finance the resumption of football according to Fifa and Caf guidelines.

And Zifa, which received close to US$2 million from Fifa and Caf as Covid-19 relief funding, could be having sleepless nights over the resources to resume football in the costly approved “bio bubble” concept.

“The resumption of football activities shall take the format of the mini-league using the bubble concept adopted by yourselves,” the SRC said.

“The football activities shall, in addition to the requirements specified by the World Health Organisation for safe resumption of sport, Statutory Instrument 200 of 2020, your submitted protocols, other legislation and policy directives relating to the prevention and containment of Covid-19, be subject to the following conditions,” the SRC letter read.

And one of the conditions apart from strict adherence to the bubble concept as well as the implementation of standard operating procedures was the directive that “Zifa and its affiliates provide resources and finances to undertake these activities”.

In simple terms, the government will not be assisting in the financing of the resumption of football, which leaves Zifa as the sole funder, with most of the clubs struggling to pay their players.

In the end, there may be no resumption of football activity in the near future.

But upcoming events such as the Cosafa women championships, which begin in two weeks’ time, the African Cup of Nations qualifiers set for next month and the African Nations Championship finals, a competition for locally-based players, put Zifa in a catch-22 situation.

It’s likely that Zifa will choose the bio bubble concept for the national team only and club football may have to wait for next year.

However, the PSL was excited by the news of the approval for the resumption of football, but took into cognisance the fact that there are processes to be undertaken first.

“We have received the letter and we are happy that football is resuming. However, this is not going to be an automatic resumption. The sports medical committee will lead the process, in terms of logistics for testing, the testing process, and period for player conditioning. We will consult all stakeholders in terms of the bio bubble (concept),” PSL CEO Kenny Ndebele said.

“It is also important to note that there will be no group training until the tests and other required protocols have been done,” he said.

As of yesterday, most clubs were not in a position to officially comment on the matter as they were yet to receive official communication.

“We saw the letter circulating on social media and it’s only proper to give a comment when we get official communication from the PSL. Otherwise it’s difficult for us to say anything at the moment as clubs,” Highlanders media and communications officer Ronald Moyo said.

The Zifa competitions committee and PSL sports medicine committee are likely to engage in marathon meetings in the coming weeks to draw up the best course of action as well as the cost of the return of football.

In July, the recommended test kits were going for at least US$65 each, making it virtually impossible for the majority of clubs, currently in financial doldrums, to manage without solid financial support.

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