Last women standing

Miriam Sibanda

Miriam Sibanda

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
IN a game full of men fitted with artificial blinkers, who can’t shake the establishment, even when the train is skidding off the rails, it has taken the remarkable courage of two women to rock its foundations and throw its woes into the spotlight.It has taken a 31-year-old legislator, and a journalist-turned-football-administrator, to break a culture of fear, where it has been taboo to take on a leadership that has ruled the game with an iron fist and thrown out anyone who dared challenge them.

A game that has bred scores of cowards in the past five-years, who have been bullied into a shell by a leadership that has thrown out of the sport those who dared challenge them, now finds itself confronted by two brave young women calling for a raft of drastic changes.

Some claim the power of money has silenced a lot of domestic football’s leaders from holding their leadership to account, even against a depressing background where the game sank into unprecedented levels of debt, which has slowly been squeezing life out of its lungs.

Such claims were given credibility when none of the ZIFA councillors took the offer to lead How Mine to Nigeria for a CAF Confederation Cup tie last March, because the trip coincided with the ZIFA elections and the financial windfall the polls promised.

Usually, there is a boardroom stampede for councillors to be given tickets to be the heads of delegation on such trips.

Former Premier Soccer League chairman Tapiwa Matangaidze warned this week that ZIFA could be liquidated if one of their army of creditors decides to drag the bankrupt association to the High Court because the football-controlling body cannot service its mountain of debt.

Despite this depressing, if not alarming state of affairs in the national game, the voices of the domestic leaders have been missing, silenced by a culture of fear where they have all been turned into stars of the 1989 American blockbuster movie, “See No Evil, Hear No Evil.”

And, even after the two brave women took on the initiative to challenge the status quo and unmask the decay that has been hidden by this cover of silence, the voices of the male leadership of the game have not been heard to offer their support.

“The ZIFA councillors are so compromised to an extent of being drowned into docility,” Bothwell Mahlengwe, who played Premiership football for Sporting Lions and is now a columnist for this newspaper, said yesterday.

“So pathetic is the situation that the councillors celebrate every time a meeting is called up. Every time they come to Harare it’s pay time.

“The plot, it is alleged, has sucked in some of the board members and even the Sports and Recreation Commission. One year down the road and SRC still wants to discuss ZIFA Strategies? What did they discuss with this ZIFA board when it came into office? When are they going to discuss the issues that prompted the Minister to direct them to appraise ZIFA?

“The big question is why is the SRC handling ZIFA with kids’ gloves? So, what are they going to write in their report to the Minister? That ZIFA has fantastic plans for the future? Who is going to ask Dube the difficult questions about his failure to deliver on his promises?

“Dube has been in office for five years and what’s left are just three years. What can he do in three years that he failed to start in the last five years?”

Sport, Arts and Culture Deputy Minister took the bull by its horns last week.

“It is true that as a ministry we are not happy with the way ZIFA is running football affairs,” Kanengoni-Malinga said.

“In terms of FIFA regulations, we should not be seen interfering. Our view as Government is that it is better that we are suspended as a country as we clean up the mess at ZIFA.”

This week, Zimbabwe Women Football boss Miriam Sibanda painted a picture of a crippled association that badly needs a helping hand.

“I am disappointed, dejected and crestfallen,” she said in an Open Letter she wrote to fellow board members. I have been silent for too long.
“I kept quiet and allowed the matter to pass when the ZIFA chief executive officer (Jonathan Mashingaidze), our employee, viciously attacked me in a board meeting last year.

“You did not say a word, when Mashingaidze’s subordinates beat up my driver and tore his shirt before the Zambia qualifier match at Rufaro last year.

“In private, some of you pretend to be worried by Mashingaidze’s unbecoming conduct, but come board meetings, you switched positions and leave me alone in a corner at the mercy of the all-powerful ‘Chief, Papa or Mr Mash.’

“Mashingaidze has gone way out of line and must be shown the red card. For the good of the game, I implore you fellow colleagues that just this once accept that Mashingaidze is toxic, not just to women’s football, but the entire game across the gender divide.

“It is time we show Mashingaidze the exit from 53 Livingstone Avenue for the sake of the future of Zimbabwean football. Speaking out will take Zimbabwean football forward and your continued silence will be fatal to the game.”

In the darkness of the storm, which is threatening to sink their crippled ship that has run into rough waters, the men, who dominate the passenger list, are taking a siesta and somehow enjoying their dreams.

And it’s the voices of just two women that are providing the warning of the danger that lies ahead.