Football return impossible this year

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AFTER a careful analysis of all the factors, it is apparent there is still a long way before the local football season can start during this coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The 2020 domestic season should have commenced in March but it could not kick off after the government imposed a nationwide lockdown and banned all sporting events.

However, the government is currently working on a roadmap with the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) and other relevant stakeholders to allow the game to resume.

Sports minister Kirsty Coventry recently revealed that they want local football to adopt a bio-secure bubble model in order to ensure that players, coaches, officials and media personnel are safe from the novel virus.

Last month’s announcement by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) of new dates for both the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations and 2020-21 African Champions League has complicated matters.

The Warriors are scheduled to resume their Afcon 2022 Group H qualifiers with back-to-back matches against reigning African champions Algeria between November 9 and 17.

On the club front, FC Platinum begin their Champions League campaign in the preliminary stage at the end of that same month.

The biggest stumbling block stopping local football from returning this year is the time frame needed to ensure players return  to peak physical shape.

Local players last participated in group training in March and since then they have been at home doing individual workouts.

While many other clubs are playing a wait and see attitude, CAPS United vice-president Nhamo Tutisani is convinced there will be no football action this year due to the huge problems facing the local game.

“There is a need to look into every detail because as things stand, players need time for conditioning and we are talking of between six to eight weeks which already sees us somewhere in November.

“And if we are to start the league, which format are we adopting, how many matches are we going to play?
“Are they (players) ready? It’s not just about being ready physically; mentally they also need to be ready. These boys went to off season early December 2019 and came back around February this year for pre-season for about eight weeks.

“Don’t forget the period they have been under was stressful. It was not a normal break and we are looking at social issues coupled with economic issues and most importantly these people were living in almost like a cage,” Tutisani told the Daily News on Sunday last week.

Since December 2017 when the broadcasting deal between the Premier Soccer League (PSL) ended, local football has failed to secure a new deal.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, football fans have been banned from attending matches and this is likely to be the case here in Zimbabwe.

But here lies the problem: with no broadcasting deal in place, how will the fans be able to follow the action live?
Local clubs are also still stuck in medieval times and have not invested in in-house television channels that could show the live action to their fans.

“The major consumers of football, in our case are the spectators. How do we deliver the product to the spectators?
“It’s a challenge that we should be sized with. If fans are not allowed into the stadium, who then are we playing for?” queried Tutisani.

The biggest challenge that faces the domestic game and which will prove difficult to overcome is the issue of sponsorship.

For the past nine years, Delta Beverages has been the flagship sponsor of the local game through their brands Castle Lager and Chibuku Super.

When Covid-19 broke out, Delta and the PSL were in negotiations for a renewal with an agreement yet to be reached.

But the novel virus has resulted in depressed economic activity globally with all sectors feeling the full effects of the pandemic.

“And as if that’s not enough we also want to look at the funding side of things. Is there direct sponsors or indirect sponsors? There are challenges also related to those areas,” Tutisani said.

The local game is also faced with a huge stadia crisis after Caf banned Zimbabwe from hosting international matches earlier this year.

The First Instance Board (Fib) which is responsible for facilities also condemned all match venues in Harare.
With the rain season set to commence in the coming weeks and with the Met Depart predicting above normal rainfall, the remaining stadia are unlikely to cope with the demand due to poor drainage.

“Let’s come to the preparedness of facilities. Remember there are standards that have to be reached when it comes to the PSL football.

“How many of our playing facilities are in good order even the training facilities themselves, how many are in order?” asked Tutisani.

With all these challenges facing the local game, Tutisani feels there is need to use this long lay-off to fix all the pressing issues.

“Yes, I understand at higher level we want to be seen to want football to come back. But surely we need to take time off and start preparing for the organisation of these football matches.

“Personally, I would think we should utilise this time in making conversation about how do we resume football collectively,” he said.

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