YOU know you have some serious catching up to do as a nation, when a senior official of your home football federation flaunts the presence of an inspector, who is in your country to assess two condemned and outmoded stadiums in an era the rest of the continent is fast adopting a modern approach to sports facilities.
Josh Knipp, the youthful South African consultant, was recently in Zimbabwe on an assignment from the Confederation of African Football (Caf) to inspect the state of Harare’s Rufaro and National Sports Stadiums.
Signs are that Zimbabwe’s grounds – which have been suspended by Fifa since 2020 for “not meeting required standards” – will miss the deadline for the beginning of World Cup qualifiers next month.
With the Warriors traveling to Rwanda first before hosting Nigeria – and if the powers-that-be in Egypt and Switzerland don’t offer us a face-saver – it points to Zimbabwe hosting the Super Eagles in the neutral venue of a neighbouring country.
But what on earth do we think we are that the entire world really should always be worried about the damage to our integrity as a people, when we as the citizens of the land do nothing, absolutely nothing, to protect our own reputation?
It’s been nearly three years now, since February 2020, when our stadiums were declared unsuitable for international football following an inspection by Caf the previous November.
As fate would have it, Covid-19 appeared out of nowhere to send shock waves across the globe. Amidst that period of great uncertainty the world over, Zimbabwe was given temporary reprieve to play at home albeit in an empty stadium, including the crucial 2-2 draw in Harare against a Riyad Mahrez-inspired Algeria, the African champions then, as the Warriors put one foot in the 2022 Afcon tournament in Cameroon.
The coronavirus-forced sporting break, had we been a country with visionary and astute sports leaders, surely should have allowed us to buy time to address the stadia crisis.
Then came the Fifa suspension early 2022, which lasted a good 17-months before it was finally lifted in July. During the diplomatic offensive of negotiating readmission by Fifa, we however went back to sleep and forgot that we didn’t have a single stadium.
And then when a Caf inspector was in town few weeks ago, he was told by shepherding senior officials of all the country’s relevant sports bodies that “we’ve done this, but we haven’t done this and that.” As if there are separate standards for Zimbabwe in this rapidly changing world in which shoddiness is sneered at.
Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have recently won a joint-bid to host the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations finals – the first time that the competition will be staged in East Africa. There can be no doubt that these three tight-knit countries are sure to host a tournament to remember in the continent’s fastest growing region.
Even our neighbours Zambia and Botswana went in with a joint entry of their own for that 2027 Afcon edition. I’m a little disappointment that their bid wasn’t successful because I know that they would have staged a blast due to the new and upgraded infrastructure they have, as well as the strides both nations have made in economic growth.
As for us, our casual attitude to life is likely to come at the big price of collective national shame come November, if Nigeria’s eagles land somewhere other than Harare or Bulawayo for a meeting with the Warriors.