WHEN the Botswana Under-17 national team were expelled from the COSAFA championships, after being caught offside in an age-cheating saga, the reaction by the football leaders in that country was swift and decisive.
Even though the Botswana Football Association leadership insisted they believed they had sent players, with the correct ages, to the tournament, someone had to pay a price for the embarrassment their country had suffered.
The BFA president, Maclean Letshwiti, announced the suspension of the association’s chief executive, Mfolo Mfolo, and the appointment of their finance manager, Thabiso Kebotsamang, as the acting CEO. “The basis of the disqualification, as communicated to the BFA, is that the team has failed the Magnetic Resonance Test (MRI test),’’ Mfolo Mfolo said in a statement.
“The National Executive Committee Emergency Committee met this morning (last Saturday) to get a briefing from the chief executive officer on the issues of the MRI issue and the disqualification.
“It came out clear, from the meeting, that the team had not undertaken the MRI test before departing to the tournament in South Africa.
“The BFA has suspended with immediate effect its CEO, Mfolo Mfolo, pending completion of investigations.’’
That the BFA had sent, according to their statement, players between the ages of 14 and 15, as part of their efforts to build a team which, in two years’ time, would fight for the regional Under-17 crown, had been overshadowed by the oversight that the MRI tests had not been undertaken.
Someone had to pay a price for that and their chief executive was suspended.
We saw the same reaction from Eswatini, the other country whose Under-17 side were expelled from the same COSAFA tournament. The country’s Minister of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs, Harries Bulunga, made it clear that heads would roll.
“The ministry, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, wishes to make it clear that it strongly condemns any form of cheating in sport and will stop at nothing to ensure that all who are involved in such and cheating in its entirety are removed from our sport,” Bulunga said in a statement after an urgent meeting with their football leaders.
“The ministry will swiftly ensure that, if the guilty verdict is upheld, those responsible are brought to book as per existing sporting policies.’’
While the BFA and the EFA both held urgent meetings, in the wake of the expulsion of their national youth teams, here in Zimbabwe, it was business as usual at ZIFA despite our Young Warriors also being caught up in this embarrassing episode.
To our football leaders it was if nothing had happened even though the reputation, and dignity of our country, had been dragged through the mud after the expulsion of our Young Warriors.
They didn’t seem to understand the extent of the embarrassment that comes with being labelled cheats and their body language, and statements, appeared to be giving a statement that such humiliation didn’t matter to them.
The youth of any nation represent its future, this is the generation which will ensure our country moves forward, in the years to come, when many of us, their leaders of today, have left the scene.
It’s a generation that should never be exposed to such ills like cheating, it’s a generation that should be kept clean because, once we give them the impression that it’s right for them to cheat their way to glory, we are poisoning their minds. It’s better for us to lose, even by margins of 10-0 in all the matches we play, as long as we know that we are not trying to cut corners and win with the aid of cheating.
That’s what Moses Chunga taught us, when he assembled his Young Warriors team made up of mainly 14-year-olds fresh into secondary school, for the tournament held in Mauritius a few years ago.
Even though that team was outclassed, in virtually all of its matches, including a 0-5 thrashing at the hands of Malawi, Chunga kept telling us that we should look into the bigger picture of where these boys would be in about three to four years’ time.
Of course, some of the rotten eggs in our football disagreed with that, because they believe in short-term gains, and Chunga was sacked from his post and, after he left, they went back to their old ways of trying to cheat their way to success. Last week, their dark arts were exposed when the Young Warriors were sent off from the COSAFA tournament under a cloud of humiliation.
Against that background, we want to make it clear that we have been cheered by the intervention from the Sports and Recreation Commission, to suspend the ZIFA chief executive, Joseph Mamutse, from all football-related activities pending the conclusion of investigations into how our Young Warriors ended up being at the tournament without being cleared for the mission.
We also believe the decision to suspend the SRC director-general, Prince Mupazviriho, for the questionable way in which our national football teams have been cleared to play in foreign countries, of late, is also a step in the right direction.
It’s just the first step, but it is an important one, because we have to be seen that, as a country, we are not one that folds its arms, when those who have been tasked with the responsibility of leading our public organisations, fall short.
More heads should roll because, as far as we can see, there is more to all this debacle than Mamutse and Mupazviriho. That the ZIFA technical director, Wilson Mutekede, has not even said a word, speaks volumes about how such malpractice has become acceptable at the association.
If the ZIFA board can’t act, then someone should, and the SRC have done the right thing.