by WELLINGTON TONI
HARARE – CONFEDERATION of African Football (CAF) inspectors-led by former South African captain Mark Fish and veteran administrator Derek Blanckensee will be in Zimbabwe this week to assess renovations to stadia that have been banned from hosting international matches.
The tour comes as Zimbabwe has been racing against time to meet the deadline of Tuesday (June 5) to ensure Barbourfields and the National Sports Stadiums met international standards.
In February, CAF prohibited Zimbabwe from hosting matches in the two venues based in the second city of Bulawayo and the capital Harare respectively as they were not up to such requirements.
Among issues that led to the ban included uneven pitches, outdated bucket seats, ill-equipped doping rooms and substandard changing rooms.
The Ministry of Sport, Youth, Arts and Culture is confident of progress made at the stadia in the midst of the lockdown that the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa imposed in April to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-9) outbreak.
This past Friday, First Instance Body, a stadium inspection agency of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA), toured Barbourfields to test the facility’s floodlights.
In a country beset by power outages, floodlights at the 40 000-seater venue and the country were last used during a regional tournament in 2014.
Their capacity to host an international football match has never been tested.
Floodlights have become imperative because CAF wants matches played in the evenings due to live broadcast rights.
To facilitate speedy renovations, the 60 000-capacity National Sports Stadium (NSS) has been placed under the Ministry of Sport, Youth, Arts and Culture.
It was previously under the Ministry of Public Works, Local Government and National Housing, which is blamed for presiding over the years of neglect at the iconic facility opened in 1987.
As a result of CAF’s ban, Zimbabwe nearly suffered the embarrassment of playing its home matches outside the country.
This included the Africa Cup of Nations 2022 qualifier against reigning champions, Algeria, which was scheduled for the end of March but was postponed because of COVID-19.
ZIFA had already earmarked the Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa for the blockbuster fixture.
The postponement of the AFCON and 2022 World Cup qualifiers matches thus came as a reprieve in disguise for the Zimbabweans.
Tino Machakaire, the Deputy Minister of Sport, Youth, Arts and Culture, is confident the CAF inspectors will endorse the renovations and Zimbabwe will subsequently play its matches at home.
“It is our wish. It is our intention to see the senior national teams play their matches at home. We are confident this can be achieved,” Machakaire said in an interview with CAJ News Africa.
– CAJ News