Zimbabwe: How Long Can Zimbabwe Go With FIFA Suspension in Place?
Harare — Football is the most popular sport in Zimbabwe although, in recent years, supporters have lost interest in the national league, primarily as a result of the underwhelming performances of the clubs that have the most support, with younger, smaller clubs predominating.
Zimbabwe’s problems were made worse when, in February 2022, FIFA suspended the country due to influence by the government in the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA). This suspension included all women’s and youth national teams as well as clubs from the nation competing at the continental level.
The ban has been a terrible blow in many respects, but the local game in Zimbabwe has witnessed a resurgence in certain aspects since it is not governed by FIFA or the Confederation of African Football. The average attendance in the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League (PSL) has increased from approximately 2,000 previous season to about 15,000 this season, according to Al Jazeera English.
Since FIFA’s prohibition, corporate sponsors – who previously concentrated on funding the national team – have shifted more financial resources toward local football, raising the caliber of the biggest clubs. Zimbabwe’s most illustrious team, Dynamos, has won a record 22 league titles since its founding in 1963 and advanced to the African Champions League final in 1998.
However, over the previous five years, the country’s two biggest teams, Dynamos and Bulawayo giants Highlanders, had fallen behind upstart clubs that had the benefit of being owned and run by significant corporations with a significant stake in Zimbabwe’s economy.
Although the local game has improved, PSL and club executives felt that it would be difficult to continue if the nation remained a worldwide football pariah. The longer the ban lasts, the more likely it is that standards will slip in the absence of continental or international football. The league’s finances will also suffer as a result of the potential long-term loss of sponsors and the continued freeze in FIFA financing, which includes money for officiating and coaching courses.
Zimbabwe was suspended after the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), the state body responsible for sport, fired ZIFA president Felton Kamambo and his entire board of directors over allegations of corruption and sexual harassment of female match officials. The allegations made against Zifa’s referees committee secretary general, Obert Zhoya, and its chairperson, Bryton Malandule were first reported by local media in September 2020 before two of the alleged victims, both referees, officially registered their complaints with the Zifa board.
The allegations were also sent to FIFA, the global game’s governing body, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA). It was not until the victims reported the allegations to police, in December 2021, that a formal investigation was launched.