Zimbabwe: Zim’s Cosafa Participation Uncertain

RECORD COSAFA Cup winners Zimbabwe may not be able to go and redeem themselves in this year’s edition as the FIFA suspension continues to cast a shadow over the national football teams.

The organisers of the tournament announced yesterday that the 2022 COSAFA Cup tournament will be played in Durban, South Africa, in July this year.

The window has been kept open for the Warriors, who are currently frozen out of international football because of a suspension by FIFA.

The draw for the upcoming tournament is pencilled for May 31, when the final line-up will be announced, and the teams learn their fate on the road to lifting the trophy.

However, the participation of Zimbabwe, who hold the distinction of winning the trophy six times, remains shrouded in uncertainty after the Sports and Recreation Commission have indicated the FIFA suspension could continue while the problems affecting domestic football administration were being attended to.

“As things stand, Zimbabwe will not be on hand to compete for the title this year after their suspension by FIFA prohibits them from taking part in any football activities,” said COSAFA in a statement yesterday.

“However, should that suspension be lifted, they will be welcomed to the tournament with open arms, having had such a rich history in the COSAFA Cup down the years, and provided so much quality talent for the region.” The 20 previous editions of the competition, which Zimbabwe were part of, have seen some great performances and incredible games that have been written into the folklore of Southern African football. But only five nations can claim to have lifted the coveted trophy.

Zimbabwe have won the COSAFA trophy six times in the history of the competition and their latest achievement came in 2018 when they defeated Zambia 4-2 in the final, and they had also won it in 2017 after beating Chipolopolo 3-1 in the final.

Zambia and hosts South Africa have won it five times apiece while Angola lifted the title three times and Namibia once.

Mozambique, Malawi and Botswana have all been finalists twice, but ended up on the losing side on both occasions. Lesotho (2000) are the only other COSAFA team to reach the decider, with Senegal being the first guest nation to do so last year. The invited guests bring another flavour to the competition and over the years there have been some top teams.

Aside from silver medallists Senegal (2021), the tournament has also welcomed Tanzania (1997, 2015 and 2018), who picked up bronze four years ago, as well as Kenya (2013), Ghana (2015), DR Congo (2016) and Uganda (2019).

This year’s tournament will be open to fans, unlike the previous edition which was played behind closed doors because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We are excited to be able to welcome fans and the media back for this year’s competition after they missed out on 2021 due to restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. “While that pandemic is still with us, sporting events in South Africa may have fans attend up to a maximum of 50% of the venue capacity. Fans must also either be fully vaccinated or produce a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours.” Zimbabwe hold the record of winning six titles since the inception of the regional tournament but they fared badly at the previous edition in Gqeberha, South Africa, last year as they failed to make it from the group stages after they finished the tournament without a win.

They finished bottom of the 10-team tournament after drawing 0-0 with Mozambique and 2-2 with Malawi. They then lost 0-2 to Namibia, before rounding off with a 1-2 defeat to guest nation Senegal.

The tournament this year returns to Durban, having last been played in the South African coastal city in 2019.

Organisers have confirmed the game will be staged from July 5-17, providing coaches with an excellent chance to fine-tune their squads ahead of the second set of 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers that will take place in September.

But Zimbabwe are also likely to forego the AFCON qualifiers if they do not meet Thursday’s CAF deadline to satisfy FIFA to lift the suspension. Kenya have since opted out.

Zimbabwe and Kenya were recently suspended by FIFA over “third party interference” after the authorities in the two countries had read the riot act on the “corrupt” leadership of the respective football associations.

FIFA announced the sanctions on Zimbabwe after the Sports Commission had suspended the ZIFA board led by Felton Kamambo over a chain of allegations that included failure to account for public funds, poor governance and sexual harassment of female referees.

Apparently FIFA have demanded that the Sports Commission reverse their decision. But the Sports Commission, in response, have said they were not in a hurry to lift the suspension of the ZIFA board and will only do so once all the key reforms have been instituted.

“Zimbabwe’s priority at the moment is reforming football administration in the country. The lifting of the suspension is not a priority at all. It will be addressed once we are satisfied that key reforms have been instituted within ZIFA.

“We are certain that the suspension will be lifted in the fullness of time and that this lifting will not be conditional to fulfilling the conditions set out in the suspension itself,” said Sports Commission chairman, Gerald Mlotshwa, in recent responses to The Herald.

The Sports Commission have since set up a Restructuring Committee led by Blessing Rugara in line with the provisions of Section 21, as well as 19(b) and 20 (c) of the SRC Act to tackle issues of strategic nature in the search for solutions in Zimbabwe’s perennial football administration problems.

This committee, made up of experts in various fields of administration, sports management, legal advisory and business management, is independent of the Sports Commission and has the autonomy to discharge the functions more fully as set out in its terms of reference.

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