Remove football from her portfolio, Kirsty knows nothing about Zimbabwe’s most popular sport

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If utterances by Zimbabwe Sport minister Kirsty Coventry at a recent football workshop are anything to go by, the former swimmer is ignorant about a sport which she is supposed to represent in government.

Coventry accused continental and global football authorities of demanding irrelevant and expensive things for African countries to be allowed to host international matches.

“The regulations by FIFA and even by CAF are very very expensive for most African countries. Some are somewhat irrelevant.

“We have an incredible sunshine. Do we need lights at that level?” Coventry said at a capacity building football workshop organised by media company Zimpapers on 19 June.

That the minister doesn’t know the reason why floodlights are a prerequisite for stadiums to be allowed to host international matches is not only shocking, but embarrassing. It’s worse because she made the statement in front of acclaimed broadcaster and football administrator Stan Matthews and many people following the event on Facebook.

“You want me to go and spend 2-3 million dollars on lights that we are never gonna use? And because we don’t have those lights you are not gonna sanction [approve] us,” she further exposed her ignorance.

How many things is she ignorant about regarding football development in Zimbabwe, on the continent and on the globe?

“We have an incredible sunshine. Do we need lights at that level?”

Kirsty Coventry

How many things has she been misinformed about by those around her because she doesn’t know about football?

How many decisions has she made out of emotion, not reason, because she doesn’t understand anything about football?

That the floodlights issue was part of her prepared speech to attendants of the workshop, and not an impromptu response to a question, shows that everyone surrounding the minister doesn’t know much about football.

A whole minister, a gold medalist at the Olympics! Her profile doesn’t fit the ignorance. But the demise of football under her stewardship tells the story.

Football was the last sport code to be cleared to go ahead post the COVID-19 period while hoards of people were allowed to throng flea markets and public transport buses.

In 2019, Zimbabwe’s National Sports Stadium was barred from hosting international matches for senior men’s teams because it didn’t meet minimum required standards. Four years later, it still doesn’t. It’s in a worse state now. This is despite that the ministry of sport has since taken over the stadium from the ministry of local government.

Zimbabwe is currently suspended from participating in international matches because the Sports and Recreation Commission suspended a duly elected Zimbabwe Football Association leadership. Whatever their crimes, the manner in which the Felton Kamambo-led executive was removed from office by government is the reason why FIFA suspended Zimbabwe from participating in international football.

The minister said that she acted because she was “tired of seeing athletes being treated like dirt, and that female referees were being abused”. Fair. Where are we, 16 months after her actions led to the suspension of Zimbabwe from international football?

 If in the coming weeks as she claims, solutions to the suspension from FIFA are found, where will the athletes play their international home matches?

The state of facilities in the top two tiers is not good. That the minister is advocating for a reduction of minimum standards is extremely worrying to well-meaning football administrators who aspire to see Zimbabwean football matching global trends.

Zimbabwe cannot, and will never compete at par with other nations until and unless she rises to the level of those teams. In everything. We are a fortunate country because some of our best players benefit from quality facilities and training from other countries, otherwise we would be stuck in the stone age where we don’t need flood lights.

How do we play night games Honorable Minister when CAF demands that all midweek games be played in the evening?

Can football trust Kirsty Coventry to deliver a stadium to host Warriors’ matches when she doesn’t know that some of the Warriors’ matches are played under floodlights? Zimbabwe beat Guinea in the Warriors’ last international match before the FIFA suspension under flood lights.

Can we even dream of hosting even the COSAFA tournament when the minister responsible for football doesn’t know what our football needs to match infrastructure standards of our neighbours like Zambia?

The minister’s utterances may not warrant her resignation, but she should apologise to football stakeholders.

Cry Zimbabwean football Cry.

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