YET another four years, another World Cup.
For football fans in Zimbabwe, distant bystanders again for this majestic global fête, this World Cup finds us, quite ironically, in nearly the same predicament we were four years ago – international isolation.
Zimbabwe did not kick a ball the last time out in the quest to reach Russia 2018 after the country was thrown out of the qualification competition as sanction for failure to pay former national team coach, the Brazilian Valinhos.
This time, circumstances are slightly different, but the cloud of an outcast still hovers over Zimbabwean football.
The country is presently under international suspension by the global governing body, Fifa, for what the Zurich-based organisation terms “third-party interference” in the affairs of its member associations.
A ban, or suspension, whatever you like to call it, is a strong punitive measure.
Somebody from outside would imagine that – given Zimbabwe’s broader undesirable status within the community of nations – that football is similarly delinquent, a mirror image of the country’s worst excesses.
But we only have ourselves to blame because; by now, we should know that such Fifa members as Zimbabwe are a convenient scapegoat when the wicked leaders of world football feel like they need to show some authority in front of a global audience, to conceal the real muck of African football, which the powerful suits sweep under the carpet when no one is looking.
Once again, we go into another World Cup with Africa grabbing attention for the wrong reasons.
At a time when the narrative should be on the field of play, when the storyline should be about an African team going past the quarter-finals for the first time, maybe reach the final itself and, who knows, even lift the coveted prize – bribery of African football leaders has gatecrashed the party.
In a just released explosive new Netflix series, three African officials are alleged to have been paid US$2.3 million by the Qatar Word Cup bid team in exchange for their votes.
What a disgrace of gigantic proportion, a vicious attack on the integrity of the African people. While those sent by Africa to represent our interests were busy lining their pockets, other progressive football leaders from elsewhere in the world were entering into deals with Qatar for the betterment of their people back home.
It is said that the great ex-French footballer Michel Platini requested the Qataris to enter into an arms deal with his country worth billions of dollars, on top of the Western Asian nation buying French aircraft and a football club.
The Brazilians, the greatest footballing nation on earth, could not be left behind. Their football bosses negotiated a gas deal that resulted in the installation of a massive plant in the South American country.
It is further said that our African brothers were told, rather unenthusiastically, that the loot was for their home nations’ federations, but with that mischievous twinkle of the eye from their generous friends, sly as you can imagine, that says “come on, man, you know you can do what you want with it!” More like lavishing a child with pocket-money and ask them to buy candy for their friends, if they want.
It goes without saying that the said amounts were deposited into the personal bank accounts of the three African officials.
I will take you back to how brown envelopes containing sums of US$50 000 were said to have been distributed in the cover of darkness to a number of African FA bosses on the eve of a previous Fifa elective congress. The cash was said to be for “future projects” in their countries. Subtly, the message was clear – they could do whatever they want with the money.
Years later I bumped into the Zimbabwean FA boss from that time, who had since left the game but had been implicated. I introduced myself, and casually asked about the incident from the Fifa congress. He only laughed – a deep and throaty chuckle – and questioned why I honestly wanted to talk about something that happened a “very long time ago.”
It was a long time ago, of course, but the greed of our leaders has not changed a bit. What has changed are the stakes, which have gotten even higher over the years, and the amounts involved, which have enormously increased.
Another World Cup has come. It will go, quickly, and we will wait for the next one.
There will be repeated denials after Qatar 2022, and counter-accusations. Anger and retribution, too. Maybe a slap on the wrist for the one fall-guy who wasn’t clever enough to cover up his tracks.
Meanwhile, the small fish of international football – your Zimbabwes, Kenyas or Indias – will be descended heavily on if they transgress, to shift attention.