By Rusununguko Shone
The nine Covid-19 positive tests recorded within the Warriors’ African Nations Championship (CHAN) camp came at a time when national cumulative cases were on a radical increase; but for a team that was in a supposed ‘bubble’, the outcome is a symptom of a catalogue of avoidable mistakes by the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA).
Government’s reintroduction of the ban on sport on January 3 2021, despite the room for exemption in exceptional cases, spells doom for the people’s game.
ZIFA failed the test to demonstrate that football can be played safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here’s how, why and where it all went wrong for the pilot project.
Questionable Warriors coach
The major reason why nine players and officials tested positive has nothing to do with the pandemic itself but the decision taken by ZIFA in January 2020.
The appointment of a Warriors’ coach, Zdravko Logarušic, who either doesn’t know how to conduct tactical training, or merely dislikes the sessions.
The series of friendly matches.
Despite naming a provisional squad of 34, which could play 11 v 11 games in a controlled environment, Logarušic demanded to train through practice matches with Premier Soccer League clubs.
The move substantiated sentiments expressed by those working with him, that he avoids tactical training by all means possible.
Players and officials of these clubs were only tested for Covid-19 once when they resumed training and they were not quarantined like the CHAN squad.
Manica Diamonds, Black Rhinos, Caps United, Dynamos, FC Platinum, Bulawayo Chiefs, and Herentals FC all trained with the Warriors’ provisional squad without strict enforcement of standard operating procedures to prevent infection.
Logarušic endless recruitment
The Warriors’ coach was praised in some sections for ‘dumping’ players initially recommended by his lieutenants Lloyd Chitembwe and Tonderai Ndiraya, opting for those who impressed him during practice matches.
His last pick was the duo of Farawo Matare and Shadreck Nyahwa of Bulawayo Chiefs, whom he only assessed in the practice match against Herentals FC on December 20 – the last day of the first training camp.
One could be forgiven for concluding that the coach did not have the final 23-players by the end of a two-week training period, neither had he conducted even one tactical training session with those players.
One player lamented the fact that the coach had not yet started teaching them how he wanted them to play. Question now is, does he know how to?
Absent medical doctor
The unavailability of Dr Xolani Ndlovu for the first instance of the CHAN camp left a huge gap in the medical department, more so in the Covid-19 era.
ZIFA appointed Dr Nicholas Munyonga to cover for Dr Ndlovu, but the former appeared at the training ground once throughout the two weeks that the Warriors were in camp.
Physiotherapist Admire Nyamadzawo doubled as the medical doctor but he could not also act as the Covid-19 compliance officer.
Players picked from practice match opponents were not tested when they were incorporated into the squad, maybe because of the costs.
It was no surprise that foreign nationals on the Simba Sporting Club delegation got VIP treatment at one training session.
There was no security at all at all Warriors’ practice matches save for the Dynamos match when the Dynamos marshals were controlling access to the venue.
Access to the playing venues was easy and free to those who dared to walk in. The absence of a dedicated Warriors security team saw many guests getting access to the team when they should not have.
It had been a while since a huge number of positive cases had been recorded, if at all the government was still extensively testing.
Players and officials equally freely interacted with ‘outsiders’ after training sessions, in complete disregard of social distancing and quarantine regulations.
This happened in full view of the team manager who is the most senior official in the group responsible for welfare of the whole team.
Journalists took the opportunity too, knowing fully well that if regulations were being enforced, they would not have been allowed anywhere close to the team.
Logarušic’s love for the media definitely posed challenges for anyone who might have advised him to keep his distance from journalists, even if it was for the safety of his players, and himself.
This one is perhaps the apt description of the chaos that surrounded the Warriors camp.
Dropped on December 14, Valentine Kadonzvo made a surprise return to training on 20 December.
He was definitely not tested when he re-joined. Why did he return, six days later?
Turns out Logarušic, a former Simba SC (Tanzania) coach (2013-2014) had recalled the winger to be scouted by his former employers who were in town for a Champions’ league clash with FC Platinum.
Indeed, the club’s CEO Barbra Gonzalez watched the training match against Herentals, together with other club officials.
What’s next for football?
So many things could have been done better during the pioneering project to pave way for the full return of domestic football.
No doubt it will now be extremely difficult to convince the Sports and Recreation Commission to allow the return of football while the country is on full lockdown.
Those given the chance to demonstrate that it was feasible squandered the opportunity.
If anything, they proved that football cannot be played safely until the rate of infection has receded. With better enforcement of stipulated standard operating procedures and all guidelines to the safe return of football, the story for the CHAN team could have turned out differently