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Ricky Zililo in Zvishavane
AT least a quarter of players that were supposed to participate in the 30th edition of the Copa Coca-Cola were yesterday disqualified for alleged age cheating.

The expulsion of more than 100 budding footballers at Mandava Stadium overshadowed the start of the country’s premier schools’ football tournament.

Headmasters tasked with the vetting used birth certificates and physical assessment. This unscientific look and disqualify method used to rule out the alleged Under-15 boys’ and girls’ players by the headmasters underlined the confusion that has become synonymous with this event over the years.

Mandava Stadium resembled a funeral wake as the disqualified players wailed after being denied the opportunity to take part in what is meant to be the premier schools’ tournament.

The young players’ predicament drew sympathy from observers, who included football legends Ronald “Gidiza” Sibanda, Johannes Ngodzo, Nomsa “Boys” Moyo and Mighty Warriors’ coach Sithethelelwe “Kwinji 15” Sibanda.

The vetting exposed the National Association of Secondary School Heads (Nash), who were in charge of the games from cluster level, through district to provincial finals before yesterday’s sham.

The disqualification reduces the entire Copa Coca-Cola tournament into a farce if not a monumental fraud because the affected schools qualified using the very players that were disqualified yesterday.

It means deserving schools were beaten by schools using overage players and the national finals are an endorsement of the rampant cheating allegedly exposed yesterday.

Nash could have avoided this debacle, which certainly caused embarrassment to the sponsors Coca-Cola, by conducting thorough vetting before the beginning of cluster games.

But because some Nash office bearers have an insatiable appetite for success at all costs, they waited for the national finals to employ the most archaic method of vetting to disqualify players they viewed as a threat to schools from certain provinces.

Albert Macheka, the Nash head-in-charge of football justified their move and took a swipe at schools and individuals for perpetrating age cheating, saying they are a cancer that needs to be plucked out.

“I can confirm that we’ve had a disturbing situation where the desire to win got the better of some schools leading them to field suspected overage players.

More than a quarter of players who are here have been vetted out. It’s unfortunate that we continue having this age cheating problem. If only we could have scientific ways of addressing this age cheating problem,” said Macheka.

Copa Coca-Cola draw

Boys

Group A: Mandava (hosts, Midlands), Prince Edward (Harare), Mutare
Boys High (Manicaland)

Group B: Mpopoma (Bulawayo), Guinea Fowl (Midlands), Somvubu
(Matabeleland North)

Group C: Kanyemba (Mashonaland Central), Mtshabezi (Matabeleland
South), Waddilove (Mashonaland East)

Group D: Pamushana (Masvingo), Rusununguko (defending champions,
Mashonaland East), Pfupajena (Mashonaland West)

Girls

Group A: (Nyamauru (Manicaland), Thekwane (Matabeleland South),
Zishavane (hosts, Midlands)

Group B: Chenhuta (Mashonaland East), Simbo (Matabeleland North),
Chamakwanda (Midlands)

Group C: Chidyamakono (defending champions, Masvingo), Gweshe
(Mashonaland Central), Mwani (Mashonaland West)

Group D: Vainona (Harare), Birivenga (Masvingo), Mpopoma (Bulawayo).
— @ZililoR