Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
CHRIS SAMBO believes the sorry state of domestic football, despite the high turnover of administrators who have been pushed out of the game for daring to question its decay, suggests the rot could lie among those who have been cracking the whip to try and cover their shortcomings.
The former Premier Soccer League chief executive has turned into a fierce critic of the current football leadership and feels the time has come for ZIFA president Cuthbert Dube and his trusted lieutenant Jonathan Mashingaidze to acknowledge that they are now a huge part of the problems bedevilling the game.
Sambo was labelled one of the “enemies of football”, by a group of disgruntled women football administrators, who met at the ZIFA Village on Monday and declared that they had suspended their leader, Miriam Sibanda, accusing her of bringing the game into disrepute.
Sibanda was accused by those fighting for her dismissal of allegedly inviting Sambo, Francis Zimunya and Tinashe Mapuranga, dubbed “enemies of football”, into the VIP Enclosure during the Mighty Warriors’ Africa Games qualifier against Ghana at Rufaro.
Sambo, who says he paid for his seat on the VIP Enclosure and doesn’t remember the last time he received a favour from current football administrators, says he was at Rufaro as a patriotic Zimbabwean who wanted to cheer his senior national football team to a victory that would have taken them to the Africa Games showcase.
He said it was disgusting that those who have come out, in recent months to question Mashingaidze’s management style of the game, were being labelled enemies of the game to such an extent that their presence, at a football ground, was even sending shock-waves and becoming part of a charge sheet for those administrators targeted in the purge.
If Sibanda becomes the first casualty, among the ZIFA Board Members elected to lead the country’s troubled football body last year, she won’t be the first to fall by the wayside in a decade dominated by banishments from the game’s leadership.
Sibanda, though, could become the first domestic female football leader to meet such a fate and will find herself in a club dominated by male administrators who were blown away in a decade dominated by leadership strife.
Interestingly, Mashingaidze has been the common denominator in the boardroom battles that have seen a number of the administrators being swept away by a tide where there has been no room for criticism of the game’s leadership.
He was the ZIFA chief executive in 2004 when seven Councillors — Zimunya, Leonard Nkala, Aaron Munautsi, Andrew Tapela, Pharaoh Jele, Admore Nyamuramba and Benedict Moyo — were suspended from football administration after challenging the game’s leadership.
Mashingaidze returned for a second spell as ZIFA chief executive, in 2010, after having lost his post four years earlier in the hurricane provoked by the controversy of the sale of 2006 World Cup tickets allocated to Zimbabwe.
A number of ZIFA Board Members were kicked out, some swallowed by the Asiagate storm, although the saga remains unresolved — four years after they lost their board positions.
Kenny Marange, then a vice-president of the association who was cleared, did not get the remedy of being brought back into the game’s leadership.
In an interview with the Manica Post, Marange blamed Mashingaidze for locking him out of the game’s leadership. FIFA refused to endorse the suspensions that were meted out on the others with the world football governing body saying that the whole exercise had turned vindictive, without giving the accused people the chance to defend themselves, it lost its credibility.
The bags of evidence, which ZIFA sent to FIFA to try and buttress their case, were said not to be enough for the world football governing body to endorse the suspension of even one of the scores of individuals who were sanctioned by the association.
A number of people who used the channels ZIFA opened for the Appeals Process, and paid $6 000 each for their cases to be heard, who include Method Mwanjali and Thomas Sweswe, have not been provided with a determination of their cases — four years after they launched their appeals.
Patrick Hokonya, a former ZIFA Board Member by virtue of being the Central Region chairman, was also cleared in the Centralgate saga but was not brought back into the game’s leadership.
Sambo said the culture of banishing people, who dare criticise the way the game was being run, had become rampant at ZIFA, as a way of silencing dissenting voices, but given that the game continues to sink deeper into the quagmire, maybe those who were throwing others out of the game, should consider their positions.
“I remain firm in my belief that those who are running our football, especially Cuthbert Dube and Jonathan Mashingaidze, have failed completely to discharge the national mandate that they were given by the game’s constituency and no amount of intimidation, or labels of being called the enemy of the game, will make me change my position,” Sambo said.
“They can expel as many people as they want from the administration of the game, but that will not help us become a better football nation because, when you look at it, the shortcomings are very much on their doorstep and they can’t cover that by bullying people out of football.
“Why is it that we continue to become a very poor football nation if they say that we have removed the weeds and they now have the freedom to lead the game, and implement whatever ideas that they have, freely and without being criticised?
“We have never been in this position, as a football nation, this is our worst position ever and they still think that the solution will be found in expelling this guy and that guy, something they have been doing all these years, but which has not made us any better.
“We don’t have a sponsor, not even a single one, for ZIFA right now and we can’t even talk about what has been coming from the field because it’s there for everyone to see that we have never been this bad as a nation.
“I am a patriotic Zimbabwean and that’s why I pay to go and watch my national team, including the women playing, and I have never benefited from the invitation cards that they give to their colleagues, and I think, every passing month, it’s becoming very clear who are the real enemies of our football.”
About half the ZIFA Councillors, who last year gave Dube a massive vote of confidence to lead domestic football for another four years, have raised alarm over the state of the game and recently signed a petition calling for an emergency assembly meeting to discuss the poor state of the game.
Crucially, the Councillors, who include 11 of the 16 Premiership clubs, said it was necessary for the Assembly to discuss the way forward for the game.
Sambo believes the disgruntled voices, which are growing louder by the day, can only be suppressed for a certain period before everything explodes in the face of a leadership that is now even afraid of facing the very people who voted them into power.
“It’s only a question of when, rather than if, because things are so bad in our football and that won’t be addressed by labelling Sambo an ‘enemy of the game’ or kicking out this and that guy because for five years they have been in charge and we have seen nothing to suggest that we will get better,” said Sambo.
“Instead, and the truth has to be told all the time, we are getting worse and worse.”