By Nevanji Munyaradzi Chiondegwa
The great Edson Arantes do Nascimento described football as the most beautiful game in the world.
With the shear artistry displayed by players from Brazil, the jersey sponsor of that mighty Seleção team Nike came up with a term: Jorga Bonito or Play beautifully: as a play to King Pele’s words.
Africa has its share of great football wizards and ball artists.
Abedi Ayew of Ghana was nicknamed Pele and many a think it is actually his name. Austin Okocha got our Charles Mabika removed from his post as a commentator – because of the sheer admiration of the football skills of the great Jay Jay of Nigeria.
Zimbabwe has its own share of ball artists. Moses Chunga before he became Bambo was called Razorman. Vitalis Takawira was called Digital.
There was Benjani Konjera nicknamed Makanaky and there was Johannes Signature Ngodzo who would never let the ball pass him by – without the deft touch he was famed for.
The narration serves to bring to the fore the loss, pain and despair that has fallen on the Zimbabwean soccer fraternity as we are more likely than not to not see our Warriors as the national team of Zimbabwe is known – on home soil, soon.
The Warriors, who during the time of the revered German coach Reinhard Fabisch, were nicknamed The Dream Team. Indeed Peter Ndlovu, Vitalis Takawira and Agent Sawu ably supported by a cast of players young and old got us dreaming.
Nightmare of the football stadiums
Now it is all a nightmare. Stadium nightmare. Or lack of stadiums. Call it what you may want.
In February the Confederation of African Football delivered news that devoured a whole despairing nation. In one simple stroke, they declared we did not have a theatre good enough to host international matches.
We woke up to the nightmare that the country’s flagship team, The Warriors will have to host The Desert Foxes of Algeria in a neutral venue. Wait let it sink in: The Warriors will have to play their home matches away from their home.
There will not be the thirteenth player as those who are soccer fundis will say of the fans that throng the stadiums whenever the warriors play. The green and gold jersey will not be seen again in the Spiritual Home of football or even in our favorite hunting ground National Sports stadium or even Barbourfields which has given us perhaps the greatest Warrior ever: King Peter along with arguably the best ball passer Ronald Gidhiza Sibanda.
That The Smilling Assasin won’t showcase the beauty of his killer instinct at home and that the diminutive Khama Billiat won’t show that dazzling beauty to us. And that we won’t even get to see our favorite European based sons on home soil makes it all phantasmagorical.
Bunch of foreign-based Warriors
The Warriors are now a bunch of foreign based players gathering on foreign soil to play their ‘home matches. If failure was an institution ZIFA would ably represent it.
Stadiums over weekends meant a place where Zimababweans unwind and for a while had the only thing separating them being bays. There was a united purpose when the Warriors trooped into their favorite hunting ground the NSS.
Stadiums also meant team identities. Rufaro meant Dynamos and Vietnam stand meant only Dynamos fans. Barbourfields meant Highlanders and Magumeni meant only Highlanders fans. The less we say about Empankweni, the better.
Sakubva meant Tanganda, Rudhaka meant Black Rhinos, Cam and Motor meant Eiffel Flats, Gwanzura meant Caps United. Ascot meant Chapungu affectionately known as Pungas to the home fans, AND Mucheke meant Masvingo United, Mandava meant Shabanie.
Perhaps the decline and death of some of these teams also spelt the death and decline of the infrastructure. Perhaps it is a reflection of the economy and our state of affairs as a whole.
The cynical will point to the fact that we do not even have passports, and CAF made that decision so that the Warriors will not have any fans to cheer them on.
The vicissitudes of Zimbabwean football
This writer begs to differ, our stadiums are really poor and in disrepair. We are poor managers of our sporting facilities and that we still even have any sport to talk of locally is due to the enduring nature of our people than the administrative ability of those who run the sports or even the country.
Not that we have not known about this, no, on the contrary, we have known for many years now that we are not up to scratch as far as sports facilities are concerned.
We have failed to host a single Africa Cup of Nations tournament when even smaller countries with smaller economies like Gabon have done so.
We had the ignominy of having one competition we had bid for and won withdrawn from us due to lack of Government guarantee and even a regional completion like COSAFA passed us by leading to a fine even as our own former football boss is the boss of same.
I sympathize and empathize with Matebeleland region especially the city of Bulawayo and the business community there. God knows the benefits that would have accrued to JMN Airport and the hotels, tourist resorts and other businesses catering for the soccer aficionados coming to watch their teams battling our own Warriors.
Now not even the giant National Sports Stadium will host any team in Zimbabwe. This would have been huge for the economy of that region and the people there are bitter and see this as another plan to further subjugate them.
One commentator said, “The ban on the stadiums is in fact an embarrassment on the Government….kushayawo one chavanoti vagona here.”
This perhaps sums up the pain, that the nightmare of that CAF announcement brought onto the nation. We can never bring our football back to the days of the days of glory beautifully enunciated by Evans Mambara through the iconic statement during the battle of Zimbabwe in 1990 when he said; “Oh my, oh my Farai, this is the vicissitude of local soccer..”
Were he alive today, he would have died from sadness.
As a patriot a person who strongly believes in sovereignty, I am much disturbed. We cannot talk of sovereignty when another country hosts our flagship team.
How will we ever boast of sovereignty when we have to beg for a place for our beloved Warriors to play their home matches from our neighbors? Already our sons and daughters clog the economies of those neighbors and now we are even failing to keep our team home?
Surely, heads must be rolling
If this is not a wakeup call and an eye opener to someone somewhere that something is seriously wrong in Zimbabwe then we will never be what we used to be.
That we have not seen resignations from ZIFA, The Sports Commission and at least two or more Government ministries over this issue is indicative of how far we have fallen as a nation.
How can we ever tell people of our literacy rate when we cannot do the obvious like cut grass, plant and water lawns? We fail to pick litter till it eats through our infrastructure?
Failing to pay subscriptions to COSAFA is one thing but failing to bring our Warriors home is unforgivable! It is a serious loss of face that deserved one performing seppuku.
The people in charge of causing this national embarrassment, grief and anger should have simply resigned en-masse. There is no honor in hanging on! Are we telling our children that there is no pride in being Zimbabwean? Why are we this kind of people?
The stadium ban should be a reminder to one and all that we are dooming ourselves by our current trajectory. This lackadaisical approach we have to everything must simply stop! I do not ululate for mediocrity.
Homeland or death.
Chiondegwa is a freelance writer. He writes for Zimbabwe Digital News in his personal capacity.
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