If there is fury in Equatorial Guinea for, at least finishing fourth, spare a thought for us

SHARUKO TOP 7 FEBWHEN a ZIFA board member told me last week that they had received an assurance that the storm, which has been pounding their stricken ship, will be over soon because I would be away, for close to a month on World Cup Cricket duty, I took it as a compliment.

I know I have been a regular agenda of ZIFA board meetings but when the same football leadership now gets widespread relief when they hear you might be away, for a month doing something unrelated to their madness, it brings comfort that you are making an impact.

When their army of spin-doctors become obsessed with trailing all your movements, including feeding their paymasters with classified information that should ordinarily be confined to the walls of your work-place, like your proposed travel schedule for an international sporting event, you know that you are making a big impact.

When their army of spin-doctors stalk every article that you write, so that they respond to it with something pregnant with public relations stuff that will make a professor at the University of Southern California, reputed to be the best PR-teaching college in the world, green with envy, you know you are making a huge impact.

When you become their ultimate source, and all they do is wait for what you would have written so that they find ways of panel-beating it, dressing it with borrowed robes and irrelevant voices, all in an effort to ensure that their masters will find imaginary short-term relief, you draw comfort from the leadership role they are inadvertently giving you.

So, when an explosive memorandum started circulating at ZIFA, they choose to ignore it because its contents are damning to their friends, even though the issues raised in that memo deal with matters that are crucial in the management of our national game.

And when we pick that memo and publish it, the spin-doctoring mission goes into full swing again and they dismiss it, suddenly they know it exists, and voices are invited, from the politically-correct board members known to be experts in singing his Masters’ Tune with such melody they would have given the Beatles a run for their money if they had emerged in the Swinging Sixties, to say that they are not part of the letter.

Even when they are told that Miriam Sibanda, the fiery leader of women football, had told the Sports Commission, at their meeting with the ZIFA board, that she is part of that memo, and is ready to sign it if need be, there is a deafening silence from the very spin-doctors who had questioned its authenticity.

Yesterday, the CAF leadership posted a statement on their official website, throwing their full support behind Issa Hayatou, who has come under fire in the international media, in the wake of Equatorial Guinea’s controversial victory in the quarter-final over Tunisia, the resignation of Tunisia FA president Wadie Jary from the 2015 Nations Cup organising committee in protest, and the violence that erupted inside the stadium in Malabo on Thursday night.

Seventeen CAF executive committee members — Suketu Patel, Almamy Kabele Camara, Amadou Diakite, Adoum Djibrine, Mohamed Raouraou, Magdi Shams El Din, Tarek Bouchamaoui, Kalusha Bwalya, Kwesi Nyantakyi, Constant Omari, Leodegar Tenga, Ahmad, Anjorin Moucharafou, Molefi Oliphant, Hani Abo Rida, Jacques Anouma and Lydia Nsekera — backed the statement in solidarity with Hayatou.

On the CAF website, you can see the statement and their names but not their signatures, but the absence of their signatures doesn’t mean the statement is not official, it should be doubted and spin-doctors, opposed to its contents of solidarity, should feast on it because they have a battle to fight with Hayatou.

I’m certain that you won’t read any story, in the international media critical of Hayatou and probably disappointed that all these guys have backed their leader, suggesting that because there are no signatures on the CAF website, for each of the people whom the continent’s football governing body say has supported that statement, its authenticity should be doubted.

But here, it’s a different story altogether.

When we ambush a fire-fighting job by Jonathan Mashingaidze, packaged in such a way that it’s not meant for the local readership because of the sensitivity of the information contained, all hell breaks loose and even the voice of Ashford Mamelodi, a FIFA officer based in Gaborone, is wooed to rubbish something that clearly is a secret file between 53 Livingstone Avenue and Zurich.

Even when we make it clear, that in an election year for the FIFA presidency, associations — especially those in Africa known for the rigidity in the choice of their candidate — are always going to get a protective sheet rolled around them, in exchange of their golden vote, you are unlikely to hear an official voice from Zurich casting them in bad light, still the local PR stuntmen can’t seem to get a sense of the political games being played.

Maybe, it was about time some people started asking themselves why they always react to what we write, and we never do the same to them, and why if Jonathan calls some people vampires and criminals in a circular, we are the first to get it and, because they only wait for what he feeds them, they won’t get it since, given that he is a censorship guru, he has turned into an expert who knows what casts him in good light, and that is what should only be in the public domain.

If someone tells me that, in the whole past year, let alone five years, he never found anything — just one thing — defective in the way ZIFA have been running our football, then I can only take my hat off and say, well, maybe I’m the one losing my senses.

But, if that is the case, why would an entire ZIFA board pop champagne simply because someone told them that I will be away at the World Cup for some time, even when they have nothing to support the leaked information that, indeed, I will certainly be Down Under for a month, let alone a week?

IF BLATTER AND HAYATOU CAN BE CRITICISED, WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT DUBE?

Last week, FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, discussed the issue of the pending presidential poll and the challenge that he faces in an election he is expected to win by a country mile.

“It is impossible to make everybody happy,” Blatter told CNN. “IF I HAD ONLY POSITIVE PRESS, THAT WOULD NOT BE GOOD. I LIKE CRITICISM, BUT AS LONG AS IT IS FAIR CRITICISM.”

CAF president Hayatou has also come under intense criticism, especially in the international media, after a scandalous refereeing performance, in the quarter-final tie between hosts Equatorial Guinea and Tunisia, which his critics say was a deliberate attempt to keep the hosts in the tournament.

Tunisia FA president Jary quit his post on the 2015 Nations Cup organising committee in protest, something that generated a lot of bad press for Hayatou.

And, after violence marred the semi-final tie between Equatorial Guinea and Ghana in Malabo on Thursday night, the media hawks were again critical of Hayatou.

The CAF executive decided it was time to stand by their leader and they released a statement yesterday.

“(The CAF executive) denounces the strategy of using the CAF president as a scapegoat by those who seek by all means to acquire a good conscience for themselves, expresses its full support — unconditional and unqualified — to the CAF President and his leadership of African football, expresses its sincere gratitude to the CAF president for his ongoing involvement in the development of football in Africa,” read the statement.

There has been intense media criticism of Hayatou but it goes with the job, especially when things don’t go according to plan, and the media has also been highly critical of Blatter, especially when it comes to FIFA’s image.

So, if these big boys of world football can endure such criticism, and Blatter can tell CNN that, “IF I HAD ONLY POSITIVE PRESS, THAT WOULD NOT BE GOOD.

“I LIKE CRITICISM,” who is Dube not to be criticised especially against a background where the game, which he has led blindly in the past five years, is now on its knees?

Why should the fan, or the journalist, not question Cuthbert Dube’s management style when ZIFA continues to be swallowed by a debt that is ballooning out of control and, as we report elsewhere in this newspaper, the Sheriff of Zimbabwe raids the ZIFA president’s home to attach property because he has failed to honour his promise to pay a debt owed by the association?

In the past, the Sherriff of Zimbabwe used to raid ZIFA House, at 53 Livingstone Avenue, but there is nothing there, not even tables and chairs, and now they are raiding the home of the boss who undertook, when the services were being provided, that he would pay off that debt.

People are supposed to keep quite when, just two or so weeks before the Young Warriors get their African Youth Championships qualifying campaign underway, nothing has been put in place to prepare the team and, worse still, a ZIFA boss who told the nation, just two weeks ago that they will rise US$2 million from their sources, has his home raided because the association can’t pay about US$280 000.

Yes, the Government should come on board and help ZIFA but how do you help an association whose audited accounts show that about US$780 000 cannot be accounted for and, still, it doesn’t matter to the people who are running the game when everything points to the fact that a huge chunk of this money could have been misappropriated?

How does the Government come on board, to bail-out ZIFA, when the association doesn’t concede, when some high-ranking Government officials raise alarm and say that the game is being run into the ground, and when a threat from FIFA warning against Government interference comes, they make sure they leak it to all the media organisations because it protects their interests?

How can you have an organisation that wants the Government’s money, if it can be found, and doesn’t want the same Government’s scrutiny, or censure, as and when its officials feel that the way the game is being run won’t take it anywhere?

Blatter holds a successful FIFA World Cup and has developed football all over the world and Hayatou holds a successful Nations Cup and has developed football on the continent but they still get their fair share of criticism.

What about Dube and the decay that we have seen in the national game in the past five years, all that he does is listen to Jonathan Mashingaidze, who tells him, now and again, that they are people who are trying to bring him down, rather than take a sober look at the fact that the centre cannot hold anymore and things are falling apart?

IF THERE IS FURY IN EQUATORIAL GUINEA, WHAT ABOUT HERE?

Equatorial Guinea were the lowest-ranked team at the 2015 Nations Cup finals but, somehow, tonight, they will plunge into battle for the bronze medal in the third-place play-off against an impressive Democratic Republic of Congo.

It’s not every tournament where a team, ranked 129th in the world, and which has only qualified for two Nations Cup finals, both coming in the last three years by virtue of being the hosts, makes it into the battle for a bronze medal.

Yes, there was controversy over the penalty that bought them a life in the quarter-final against Tunisia but they earned their win, with a beauty of a free-kick in extra-time, while the Tunisians failed to score in those extra 30 minutes.

But you have to give Equatorial Guinea credit for the way they beat Gabon and how they have stood to be counted, when no one felt they were good enough to get this far, and given their nation something to cheer their spirits.

After all, this was a team that was not supposed to be at this tournament, having been disqualified in the preliminary rounds for fielding an ineligible player, and for them to bounce back, and take on the best countries on the continent, and reach the third-place play-off, is a remarkable achievement.

I don’t know why their fans were so mad on Thursday night as Ghana tore them apart because their team, in all fairness, has already written a fairy-tale, has already been a huge success at this Nations Cup and, win or lose against the Black Stars, the players still needed to be treated as heroes for getting this far in this tournament.

Noone can take the medal of team of the tournament from them, even if they finish fourth by losing tonight, and I felt the Equatorial Guinea fans should just have gone into that game against Ghana for a party, if they won, then so be it, if they lost, then so what?

But if fans of a team, which came into this tournament ranked 129th in the world, playing at only their second Nations Cup finals, and on both occasions as hosts, could go so mad that they had lost to Ghana, a team that was just one successful penalty kick away from reaching the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup, then spare a thought for the supporters of the Warriors.

A team that has been dissolved twice by its association, in the past three years, after they failed to qualify for the Nations Cup finals, a team that failed to beat Tanzania and failed to win any of its six World Cup qualifiers in the past two years, a team that now seemingly belongs to two individuals — Dube and Mashingaidze — and a team that is in disarray right now.

That same passion, which led the fans of a team that is ranked 129th in the world, to lose their cool and turn into hooligans, refusing to accept defeat even against a superior opponent, exists in the souls of the supporters of the Warriors.

They love their team, with all that they can give to a football team, and if you check your attendance figures records, before Dube came into power in 2010, the Warriors used to have, on average, the highest attendance record for national teams in Africa.

That is passion and you can’t buy that.

Rewind to a Rufaro filled to capacity, on June 5, 2011, just a year after Dube had taken over as ZIFA president, and Norman Mapeza was in charge, think about that outpouring of passion from the stands, the tension when Knowledge Musona stood up to take the last-gasp penalty, the wave of disappointment when it was saved, the relief when the referee ordered a re-take and the incredible joy when he converted for a 2-1 win over Mali.

The same Mali that now can only be knocked out of the Nations Cup finals because they were unlucky when the lots were drawn in Equatorial Guinea.

Then, as Dube consolidated his hold on the game and began to show his true colours, the train skidded off the rails, and on September 10, 2012, just a year after those incredible scenes at Rufaro, only 4 000 fans, the worst attendance for the Warriors in record, were there to watch the national team beat Angola 3-1 in a 2013 Nations Cup qualifier against Angola.

Why?

Because in their madness, the ZIFA leaders decided that the cheapest ticket would cost US$10 and a bond, built over years, was shattered.

Since then, the attendance figures have been an eyesore but, then, who cares because when you question things, you are dubbed anti-football and a whole ZIFA board toasts champagne when they hear you might be going away, for a month, to cover a Cricket World Cup.

I’m not demanding that ZIFA take us to the World Cup but a Nations Cup, sure, should be within our reach and, when we fail, people have a right to ask questions even if it makes our football leaders, and their spin-doctors, uncomfortable.

To God Be The Glory!

Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Di Mariaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

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