WITH some African countries relaxing lockdown regulations to allow sport and football in particular to resume, the Zimbabwean government’s deafening silence on the matter has generated various interpretations.
While some sport codes regarded as low risk such as those that fall under the Zimbabwe Golf Association, Zimbabwe Aquatic Union, Zimbabwe Cricket, Cycling Zimbabwe, Triathlon Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe National Bass Federation and the National Anglers Union of Zimbabwe, the National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe, among others have been given the green light to restart provided they satisfy conditions laid down by authorities, football remains suspended for an indefinite period.
The Football Association of Zambia, whose football activities had been halted in March because of the threat of COVID 19, green lighted the resumption of football activities on June 18.
The South African Football Association has confirmed that the government has allowed the PSL teams to return to training pitches.
The top-flight in South Africa could resume in the coming weeks with most teams left with six or seven league matches in the current campaign.
Although it is a shared view that football activities are secondary to the wellbeing of those who wish to participate, failure by the government or Zifa to make a pronouncement on the way forward regarding the future of domestic football at a time the continental soccer controlling body Caf has prescribed guidelines for the restart of football activities in Africa is indicative of a leadership that lacks vision or is rather inept.
The other school of thought is that in a fragile economy like Zimbabwe where clubs are struggling to pay playing and non-playing staff because of too much reliance on gate receipts as opposed to broadcasting rights and sponsorship like the rest of the football world, resumption of football will further burden clubs in light of the fact that the Caf prescriptions can only be implemented by well-resourced teams.
The Caf guidelines emphasise the health of the major stakeholders (players, officials, fans, partners) as the essential element before leagues can resume. The plan highlights effective and continuous medical assessment (testing) of players and officials, guidelines for training sessions, disinfection of sporting facilities, as well as strict adherence to the global preventive protocols.
The recommendations include: gathering all the teams in one city until the end of the championship. Each team must be made up of 23 players, 10 members of technical and medical staff, match officials, the media and all those who work in the stadiums during the match will have to be tested, mask ports for substitutes and supervisors on the sidelines, no Press conferences except flash interviews for players; and flash interviews to be conducted respecting physical distance of two metres or more. Caf also recommended that every member association should ban exchange of shirts, accept the use of five substitutes, drinking breaks at 30 and 75 minutes during the game, discourage spitting on the field, and ensure the federations have the means to guarantee the tests.
It will not be easy for the football community in a battered economy like Zimbabwe to adhere to the guidelines.
However, with restaurants now allowed to have sitting customers within their premises, expectations were that the government would at least chart a way forward for football.