Dis­band PSL to save Zifa

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport - Farayi Mungazi

A FEW years ago, at the end of an in­ter­view, a for­mer Zifa chair­man grum­bled about his time at the as­so­ci­a­tion: “Do you know how it feels to be up to your eyes in debt? When I was run­ning that place, it was the most stress­ful time of my life.”

What he meant was that lead­ing the body that gov­erns Zim­babwe’s most pop­u­lar sport is nigh on im­pos­si­ble. At the best of times, it’s a thank­less task. Zifa is of­ten pil­lo­ried by coaches, play­ers and fans when­ever things go awry for the na­tional team. He might as well have added that work­ing at Zifa in any ca­pac­ity should come with a health warn­ing.

Con­stantly the brunt of pub­lic hos­til­ity and rarely re­ceiv­ing credit for any­thing, it begs the ques­tion: why would any­one in his right mind want to be Zifa boss? There are, of course, many peo­ple who rel­ish the post as a dream as­sign­ment rather than a poi­soned chal­ice. But, if the truth be told, never has a job ru­ined so many rep­u­ta­tions.

The Zifa pres­i­dency is no longer the at­trac­tive propo­si­tion it was dur­ing the days of the late Nel­son Chirwa and Job Kadengu. The as­so­ci­a­tion is drown­ing in a sea of debt, with a list of cred­i­tors as long as the Harare-Bu­l­awayo high­way. Suf­fice to say, Zifa’s prospects of es­cap­ing the re­lent­less cash squeeze any time soon are pretty re­mote.

Philip Chiyangwa made bullish noises when he be­came Zifa boss in De­cem­ber last year. I’m not hold­ing my breath. The os­ten­ta­tious busi­ness­man is star­ing at a mam­moth $6 mil­lion black hole. This is why he tried to wash his hands off the debt in June by dis­solv­ing Zifa and res­ur­rect­ing it as a new en­tity called the Na­tional Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion of Zim­babwe (Nafaz). Pon­tius Pi­late would have been im­pressed!

Over the years, Zifa’s fi­nan­cial predica­ment has been wors­en­ing to the nadir reached in March 2015 when the na­tional team was ex­pelled from the pre­lim­i­nary qual­i­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tion of the 2018 World Cup with­out kick­ing a ball. The ex­pul­sion fol­lowed the non-pay­ment of an out­stand­ing debt of $60 000 owed to for­mer na­tional coach Val­in­hos. The Brazil­ian was not paid de­spite sev­eral warn­ings and dead­lines.

The an­nual Fifa grants have saved many a day, but of­ten­times Zifa has found it­self propped up by in­di­vid­u­als with all sorts of agen­das. Some­thing has to change — and it goes al­most with­out say­ing that, un­less an ur­gent so­lu­tion is found, our var­i­ous na­tional teams could be con­demned to foot­ball’s back­wa­ters for many years to come.

Could it hap­pen that Zifa might one day be closed for busi­ness? It’s an un­palat­able thought, but Zifa is fac­ing the very real prospect of ceas­ing to ex­ist. How­ever, in my view, the prob­lems at Zifa House have been, and are still, be­ing mis­di­ag­nosed. In say­ing this, I must state that I’m nei­ther a Zifa apol­o­gist nor Chiyangwa’s spin doc­tor.

Af­ter all, I in­clude my­self among foot­ball lovers who have shown re­mark­able re­silience in the face of chronic mis­man­age­ment from the men and women who pop­u­late the game’s cor­ri­dors of power. But when analysing Zifa’s on­go­ing trauma, it’s clear to me that the prin­ci­pal cause of its tra­vails is not just cor­rup­tion or mis­man­age­ment.

True, Zifa has had its fair share of in­com­pe­tent and cor­rupt of­fi­cials over the years. True, a lot of money has dis­ap­peared with­out trace at Zifa. True, many of the wounds that Zifa has suf­fered have been self-in­flicted. Not ev­ery wound though. Let me sum up the ele­phant in the room in three words: Premier Soc­cer League.

Many peo­ple, my­self in­cluded, re­garded the birth of the PSL in 1992 with con­cern. Where would it end, if not with cat­a­strophic con­se­quences for the gov­ern­ing body and its abil­ity to ef­fec­tively run the game? The ex­tent to which it is healthy for clubs to run a league in­de­pen­dent of Zifa is a mat­ter of con­jec­ture. So too is the ques­tion of whether com­pe­ti­tion with Zifa for spon­sor­ship dol­lars is the right sort of com­pe­ti­tion.

Be­fore the PSL was born, Zifa made money from cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship and gate tak­ings. But those fi­nan­cial life­lines were cut off by the ad­vent of the PSL. And once they sniffed the money, the PSL man­age­ment lost sight of any­thing be­yond the end of their nose. I humbly sub­mit to you, dear reader, that the PSL was an ill-thought, self-serv­ing idea that should never have been al­lowed to hap­pen.

Those who banged the drum for the PSL’s cre­ation will bris­tle at this, but its ex­is­tence has had a cor­ro­sive ef­fect on Zifa’s bot­tom line and the knock-on ef­fects will take many years to deal with. Some will ar­gue that Chiyangwa should knuckle down and get on with the job at hand. But the real­ity is that no one, no mat­ter how clever, can run an or­gan­i­sa­tion with sky-high over­heads but no re­li­able, reg­u­lar source of in­come.

Things are des­per­ate. You don’t have to be a fi­nan­cial wizard to know that the bill for na­tional teams — ju­niors, se­niors (men and women) — to ful­fil their in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions is a hefty one. When you add Zifa’s other com­mit­ments, it’s quite re­mark­able that, apart from the 2018 World Cup aber­ra­tion, they have man­aged to keep our na­tional teams

Zifa House

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