By Goodwill Zunidza
On February 5 2021, deep in the throes of the Covid-19 induced national lockdown, popular football analyst Denford Mutashu was heard on the country’s airwaves lamenting on an obvious subject.
Mutashu, wearing his other hat as president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR), stated the case for his membership to the Health authorities and pressed for a relaxation of some of the lockdown restrictions.
It was a method he had used before with measurable success.
The Government last year allowed shops to extend their operating hours as the pandemic first hit the nation with retailers initially curtailed to a seven-hour operating time-table.
Presently, Mutashu has enough time on his hands to make his assessments.
Local football has not played out since 2019 and analysts, commentators, reporters, photographers and camerapersons are enduring their second year of work paralysis.
Worse off are the athletes who only know football as their way of living. In virtually all the countries in the region the game has resumed, or never stopped in the case of Zambia and Tanzania, but Zimbabwe remains in limbo.
Unfortunately, pro-active football citizens like Mutashu can only speak for retailers while the voice of his other passion football is silent at a time noise is the only conceivable solution.
The Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) long coiled into their shells once the first lockdown was ordered in March last year.
Ominously then, the 2020 domestic season was only a week from commencing. Since then, apart from some start-and-stutter attempts in the following months of August and November, no serious or even token effort has been applied to get the game restarted.
Desmond ‘Gazza’ Maringwa, Mutashu’s counterpart at the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe (FUZ), is point-blank on the devastation football inactivity has wrought on the players.
“Zviri kurwadza! (It’s painful). The boys are now struggling,” the former Dynamos and Warriors midfielder poignantly moans.
There are already reports of scores of star players skipping the border including wading through crocodile-infested rivers to try their luck with inferior teams in neighbouring countries.
In addition, notable football sponsors are on the brink of pulling out due to continued brand invisibility with telecoms operator NetOne having announced they would no longer bankroll Highlanders, Caps United and Black Rhinos.
The Sport and Recreation Commission (SRC) was kind enough to extend a hand to football when it permitted the resumption of competition once Zifa submitted a clear proposal outlining measures they would implement to comply with Covid-19 prevention protocols.
Several sporting disciplines, that include cricket, golf, tennis and paralympics, were able to restart during that window period.
However, football authorities dithered with Zifa directing the Premier Soccer League (PSL) to purchase their own Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) as part of the resumption requirements.
Zifa had much earlier released to the clubs a batch of funds obtained from Fifa ostensibly to cushion players from their long lay-off.
Predictably, PSL cited that the money had long been spent, on the precise reasons for which it was received, and there was no new money, given the closure of stadia, to use on PPEs.
The matter took its twists and turns including scrutiny on how Zifa had distributed the funds in the first place, with clubs having withdrawn their varying deposits in RTGS rather than the forex transmitted to Zifa from Switzerland.
The two football bodies thereafter bickered over exchange rates and balance of payments while the plight of players worsened.
Plans by the PSL to stage a December tournament under the bio-bubble concept died a stillbirth.
The top-flight league has now drafted a new proposal to return the game against all odds next month and is counting on the mother body to finally play ball.
This comes after Fifa, shocked at Zimbabwe’s incompetence at the recent Chan finals in Cameroon where the Warriors finished last at the 16-team tournament, warned Zifa of de-registration if the local league did not resume by April this year.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who watched the tournament, is understood to have drawn the attention of Felton Kamambo, his Zifa counterpart, to the existence of a clause in the Fifa statutes that empowers the international football governing body to take such a route.
Fifa were already riled by information relayed to them by Caf of Zifa’s unsporting decision to continue registering local premiership champions FC Platinum for continental competitions without a local contest to determine the Zimbabwean representative fairly.
This formidable threat has seen Kamambo and company spring into action and lure back the PSL into some sort of compromise.
The league, in its latest proposal, asks clubs for further input on a scheme that entails abandonment of the bio-bubble, uptake of player Covid vaccination and regionalized mini-tournaments.
The composite document will be handed to Zifa who will in turn forward it to SRC for another appeal to the Health ministry, similar to the one Mutashu pitched on behalf of retailers last week.
Whether or not the game returns behind closed gates for an initial period or with restricted spectatorship is, for fans, neither here or there.
They just want fixtures.