Editorial Comment: Act on poor state of stadiums now

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THIS week, we launched our Fix Our Grounds (FOG) campaign to highlight the sorry state of our football stadiums hoping this will push authorities to take action and address the situation.

As a national newspaper, we believe we have a responsibility to do that because these stadiums belong to everyone who calls himself, or herself, a Zimbabwean, and we have a responsibility to pass them, in good shape, to the next generation.

Gwanzura Stadium was opened before Rufaro Stadium and those who maintained it, back then, ensured they kept it in such a shape that, even when they passed away, the stadium remained good enough to host CAF Champions League matches.

Sadly, this is no longer the case.

Gwanzura has been barred from even hosting domestic Premiership matches since 2015.

The ban was imposed by Premier Soccer League (PSL) officials, who, working on the recommendations of their medical experts, felt they were exposing players to diseases because of raw sewage that was flowing onto the playing surface from burst pipes in public toilets and dressing rooms.

Over the past five years, all we have heard are promises, and nothing else, of remedial action being taken to bring Gwanzura back to the state it was in in the past, only for the authorities to do nothing at all.

Councillors and mayors have changed, but nothing has been done to bring Gwanzura back to a state where it can, at least, even host domestic Premiership matches.

Gwanzura is just an example.

Rufaro, which for years was the spiritual home of domestic football, has also been left to rot by Harare City Council authorities and the stadium has now been slapped with a ban by the Confederation of African Football from hosting matches under the auspices of the organisation.

The National Sports Stadium, the country’s biggest football ground and a symbol of national pride when it was opened, has suffered the same fate.

Only Barbourfields in Bulawayo has been provisionally cleared to host international matches.

CAF inspectors, who demanded that improvements be done at Barbourfields, are expected in the country in the next few weeks and should they feel that their recommendations fell on deaf ears, they could again bar the stadium from hosting international matches.

That will be a huge blow for the Warriors, who could be forced to host African champions Algeria at a neutral venue in their 2021 AFCON qualifier next month.

It will also be a massive blow on our pride as a nation to see our flagship sporting national team being forced, because of our failure to maintain our football grounds, to play its home matches outside our borders.

The overwhelming response, and support, for our FOG campaign this week, as more shocking images of how the country’s football stadiums have been left to rot and collapse,  has been coming from Zimbabweans concerned with how those tasked with maintaining the facilities have been sleeping on duty.

The support has come from Zimbabweans, both at home and across the globe, who believe the authorities, especially those at Harare City Council, should be forced to wake up from their slumber and start fixing our football grounds.

The way their counterparts at Bulawayo City Council have, despite all the financial challenges they have been facing, found a way to maintain Barbourfields, at least keeping it in reasonable shape to host international matches, shows that the economic challenges the country is facing should not be used as an excuse by those running the Sunshine City.

It’s about responsibility and the officials in Bulawayo have been trying their best, showing the way that such facilities can be kept in reasonable shape and that is why even Luveve Stadium in Bulawayo still hosts domestic Premiership matches, while Gwanzura hasn’t hosted one for five years.

This is the leadership that has been lacking in Harare City Council and has now resulted in Rufaro and Gwanzura being reduced to ghost facilities, while authorities in the capital will probably need to build an entirely new stadium to replace the one in Dzivaresekwa.

That this stadium in Dzivaresekwa used to host domestic Premiership matches 10 years ago when Lengthens were using it as their home ground, shows how much the authorities in the capital city have let down their constituency, which has a huge passion for football.

There is no question that we have reached tipping point and we cannot pretend that all is well.

Something will have to give because, as a country, we are better than what we have been seeing.

The time has come for us to tell each other the truth that we can do better and, if a national hero like the late Eric Gwanzura built us a stadium, with the help of his brothers, surely we can’t argue, as an entire city, that we cannot simply maintain the facilities we have.

It’s time for action and, if need be, some heads should roll.

HERALD

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