Compliments of the season to you all football stakeholders. Despite everything, we have to celebrate the gift of life that we have been given. Not all of us made it through the year since we lost several souls whose names feature prominently in the story of our football. May the souls of our dearly departed continue to rest in peace.
2020 has not been the greatest of football years in many respects. For the first time since elite football started in Zimbabwe, we went through the year without top-flight league football. How I wish that I would be telling you now that we are past the darkest hour, but the fight against COVID-19 endures. There is hope though.
The brief return
The return of international football in November brought so much relief to fanatics after an unprecedentedly long spell without national team football. There could have been no better stage for our Warriors to mark the return than the back-to-back battles with African champions Algeria. Our Under-17 and Senior women’s teams got a run at the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) games in South Africa, so did the Under-20 boys. The Under-17 boys’ team was disqualified, another low moment for our game.
Premiership champions FC Platinum led the return to club football training as they prepared for the 2020/21 African Champions League. All other teams returned to training adhering to the guidelines for a safe return of football proffered by the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The recent surge in COVID-19 infections made the reintroduction of the ban on contact sport inevitable. Our gratitude goes to the government, which, through the Sports and Recreation Commission, granted us exceptional permission to see through our participation in the African Nations Championship (CHAN). The positive test in our team severely disrupted preparations but that will only motivate the team to work harder after almost 100% recovery. Our sincere hope is that the virus will soon subside so that football returns, as we know and like it. With the supporters in the stadium.
The brief return of football was indeed exciting, but it came at a huge cost, something that local football cannot sustain for long. The tests, bubble, empty stadiums, and chartered flights have dire financial implications for teams. Positive cases within the team also severely affect team performances, as we witnessed in the FC Platinum/Simba SC match on 6 January.
While international fixtures are likely to continue because the numbers involved can be easily managed in a pandemic situation, we are still seized with seeking pathways to resume local competitions. A year already lost is a long time in the careers of players, coaches and administrators. We cannot continue to lose more time. We appeal to all stakeholders to join hands to save our game from the existential threat at our doorstep. What can we be without the beautiful game?
Lessons learnt during the first attempt at playing football in the midst of the pandemic will definitely be important in determining the route we will take in 2021. Extensive consultation will be critical among all stakeholders, but what is critical is that we show progress from the first year of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, everyone has to continue to mask up, regularly sanitise, and maintain social distancing in order to reduce the rate of infection. Flattening the curve will help us begin to knock on doors to push for the return of the game we all love.
Wishing you the best that 2021 has to offer.