by MARCUS MUSHONGA
HARARE – THE decision by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to clear Zimbabwe’s main stadium to host international matches saves the Southern African country the embarrassment of playing its home matches outside its borders.
CAF has given the embattled Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) the nod to stage matches at the 60 000 capacity seater National Sports Stadium (NSS) in the capital Harare, starting with next month’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against defending champions, Algeria.
The match between the Warriors and the Desert Foxes is scheduled for November 16.
CAF’s clearing of the NSS to stage the match ends months of uncertainty around the venue of the match after the continental mother body prohibited its member association of hosting international fixtures at its crumbling stadia.
Another stadium, Barboufields, a 40 000-seater arena in the second capital Bulawayo, was also prohibited from hosting matches.
CAF cited inadequate facilities like change rooms, medical rooms, media tribunes, playing surfaces and seating, among others.
Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak brought international sport to a halt, the Zimbabwe-Algeria match was scheduled for March 29.
With its stadia banned, ZIFA were therefore set to host the match outside Zimbabwe, with the Orlando Stadium in neighbouring South Africa confirmed as the venue.
This would have also brought disgrace to the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, after years of bad press caused by economic turmoil, political crises and human rights issues.
However, the outbreak of COVID-19 appears to an extent to have been a blessing in disguise as the postponement of the match against Algeria gave authorities time to refurbish the facilities.
While progress has been slow because of a lockdown imposed in April, CAF noted headway made at the NSS by the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation.
All the denounced facilities at the stadium have been addressed except the seating.
That is inconsequential considering the match will be played without fans as part of precautions against the spread of the pandemic.
“We are happy CAF have given us the permission to host Algeria at home,” Tino Machakaire, the deputy minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, stated.
NSS was opened in 1987, seven years after Zimbabwe’s independence.
Years of overuse has seen it lose its lustre as one of the country’s landmarks.
Besides being the host stadia for several teams in the Premiership and the sole venue for the senior men’s national team, it is also used for a number of national gatherings and commemorations.
In 2000, CAF ordered NSS’ closure for months after 11 spectators died in a stampede towards the end of a 2002 World Cup qualifier between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Then an international force, visitors Bafana Bafana won the abandoned encounter 2-0.
– CAJ News