ZIMBABWE – There is no consensus on who, other than Brazilian soccer legend Pelé, was first to be associated with the term ‘Soccer, the Beautiful Game’. I understand why exactly he said that – because he is the world’s greatest player.
British commentator Stuart Hall may claim he coined the term, but few will agree with him. It does not matter what language one speaks, his religion, tribe, race, country of origin – whenever they are in the field or terraces, they are united by this game. Soccer brings old foes together (America, Iran), it silences guns of war (Northern Nigeria, South Sudan) and makes tons of money (Sepp Blatter, the World Cup).
Yet this beauty is only possible when systems of good soccer governance are firmly in place. The reason why millions of people are addicted to the English Premier League, the Bundesliga and La Liga is that the game in those countries is under the supervision of professionals.
We in Zimbabwe are not so fortunate. To use an old, tired cliché, our soccer is in the intensive care unit. Empty stands, empty football association coffers and teams depleted of quality players – a sign that football in the country is in the hands of amateurs with limited vision.
I miss the ‘good old days’ of the exciting rivalry between ‘Mashonaland United’ (Zimbabwe Saints) and ‘Matabeleland Highlanders’ (Highlanders FC). The heady days of Majuta ‘Jujuju’ Mpofu, Peter Nyama, Tendai Chieza, Gibson Homela, Andrew Kadengu, Tymon Mabaleka, Bruce ‘Jungleman’ Grobbelaar and Moses Bambo Chunga.
These are the men who brought pride, dignity and stature to the game. And this was not by coincidence. They played for the love of it, backed by superb administrative skills in the likes of Nelson Chirwa, Job Kadengu, Kennedy Sibanda and John Madzima.
Big corporates in the tobacco and beer sectors poured thousands of dollars into the game and the only thing that deprived our country from showing off our talent on the global stage was bad politics.
To imagine that as late as the late 1980s and mid 1990s, our soccer still had a semblance of respectability, because that is the Peter, Madinda and Adam Ndlovu era; when stylists like Joel ‘Jubilee’ Shambo, Stanley Ndunduma, Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo and Eddie “Twinkle Toes” Katswere ruled the roost.
Was it not Reinhard Fabisch’s ‘Dream Team’ that packed the Chinese-built national sports stadium to the brim with frenzied, patriotic supporters? So what went wrong?
I do not have ready answers to this paradox, but what I know is that in most countries where soccer thrives – at club or national level – national government has a semblance of stability. There is no doubt in my mind that it will take a couple of decades before Somalia, South Sudan and Zimbabwe make it to the soccer world cup.
The health of a national team is a mirror image of central governance. When a country’s economy is healthy, corporates produce enough resources to support the game that attracts a huge chunk of target customers.
A national culture of corruption, greed and administrative hooliganism also permeates to the very roots of soccer governance. This is why at one time our cricket assumed ‘test status’ character, because the administrators invested in integrity, credibility and reputation of the game. I am not so sure now.
My point is that when the game stinks – like a decaying carcass of a wild animal – it attracts vultures who want nothing less than financial self-aggrandisement. That explains why Dynamos and Highlanders cannot retain quality players, only acting as breeding grounds for predatory South African soccer scouts.
For several decades, we have watched ZIFA slide into intractable mediocrity with people like Cuthbert Dube at the helm. They have nothing other than debts and insolvency to show for their tenure. Qualifying for the world cup is hard enough, but owing coaches money and being thrown out of world tourneys digs bigger graves for the game.
Junior football – at both club and national level is dead because the men at the top either have no clue or do not comprehend its import. What this means is that the thousands of young boys and girls who have horned their soccer skills in preparation for the bigger stage are left with no outlet to express their talent. Tragic.
Of late, we hear positions in ZIFA are up for grabs. Just like in our game of politics, the quality of democracy defines the nature of candidates vying for presidential positions. In marketing, we know that when the barriers to entry are high, it is only investors with deep, resource-bound pockets that attempt to take on the market.
The very reason why ‘everybody’ has a kombi is that it is easier to register a bus than it is for an airline. For the same reason, the fact that ‘everybody’ wants to have a go at ZIFA presidency means that its standards of entry, its delivery milestones are low. Had it been that previous ‘regimes’ had set a high standard of performance-based delivery, it is only the brave and the able who would attempt to fill their boots.
I do not want to pass as one who is denigrating ZIFA presidential candidates. Remember I am a democrat who thrives on ‘multi party competition’. However, for the same reason that my party has refused to engage in any post-2013 by -elections elections, I would ask why any reasonable citizens would not find current ZIFA electoral processes repugnant, repulsive and obnoxious.
On paper, one assumes the regional representatives carry the mandate of the football clubs, however at national level, these representatives ‘allow’ themselves to be manipulated by candidates who have neither genuine soccer history nor carry national legitimacy.
We as a people are sometimes incomprehensible and never seem to learn that there is a correlation between our voting choices in every area of life and the extent of our happiness or misery. One would have thought this truism would have been brought home forcefully to the soccer fraternity by the Cuthbert Dube debacle.
But alas, that is not the case and here we are witnessing what appears to be the soccer equivalent of a coronation of Philip Chiyangwa as ZIFA President. For any serious minded soccer lover it is hard to imagine the soccer voting fraternity making a worse decision. It looks pretty much like the proverbial jumping from the frying pen into the fire.
When I read in the media a few days ago on the reported meeting in Zvishavane of some of the soccer regions representatives, I was struck by the similarities with a post robbery meeting of robbers to share their spoils. Cry the Beautiful game as the vultures appear to be circling high and above eyeing an ailing animal in the middle of the bush.
My point is that it is not enough to be just a vocal millionaire to justify one’s entry into national soccer administration. As with politics, we have seen money being used to buy votes and critical positions end up occupied by very incompetent individuals.
Equally, it does not count that if one played or administered soccer for many years, they are of necessity potentially effective ZIFA presidents. Both the electoral and nomination systems must be immunized from opportunists whose only claim to fame is dicey sources of wealth and political patronage.
A ZIFA president represents the image of a country and carries with them emotions of millions of soccer supporters. That is why integrity, honesty, credibility, honour and humility must be part of the array –among intellectual and administrative depth – of qualities demanded of potential candidates.
Zimbabwe was thrown out of the next soccer World Cup in Russia due to poor local soccer governance. This must be a good lesson that those men and women who carry the presidential vote must vote for individuals who have the capacity to extricate our game from shame.
Corporates will only invest in Zimbabwean soccer if those that administer it exhibit unlimited innovation, efficiency and integrity. So far, those that are the most vocal in the race for ZIFA presidency do not have such qualities. In modern-day activist lingo, I say ‘Bring Back the Beautiful Game’ to Zimbabwe.