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Date: 24 March 2019

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Soccer age restrictions cause a stir in Zim

[Posted 25 Mar 2011]
[By Brighton Mupangavanhu]
ZIFA is under fire from clubs and the players" union over the age restriction rule

A storm is brewing up in Zimbabwean football, after the Zimbabwe Football Association made a resolution that clubs competing in the country's second tier league, the First Division will only be allowed to register five players aged 25 years or older for the 2011 season.

The decision was made to encourage youth talent development in the country, and it is an ambitious move which has attracted opposition from some major stakeholders in the country.

"The aim is to encourage the development of the youth and of up and coming players," explained Solomon Mugavazi, ZIFA board member and Chairperson of the Northern Region.

Zimbabwe has four streams of First Division, namely Central region, Northern, Southern and  Eastern regions. The Northern region went even further and resolved to allow registration of a maximum of only 2 players aged 25 or above.

The clubs, who have faced opposition from within their own ranks, appear to be ready to back-track on their own resolution, and are set to ask ZIFA to reverse the decision to register only five over aged players.

With just a month to go before the First Division season kicks off, other clubs critical of the idea have decided to force the hand of ZIFA and reverse the decision by registering more than the maximum five over-aged players required.

"Most of our best players are over 25, so we've registered nine over-age players, and we'll wait for Zifa's response," Secretary of former PSL club Eiffel Flats, Emura Muponda said recently.

Muponda highlighted the possible hurdle ZIFA is likely to face in implementing this age rule, namely the unpreparedness of the clubs.

Clubs feel that they will be forced to be less competitive if forced to use younger players and discard the old-guard.

"Some of our senior players have running contracts with the club, so they are against this, and the coaches feel that it's a harsh decision as this league is very tough and they need their strongest players," Muponda added.

Ye another hurdle which ZIFA might have to contend with before the league's season kicks off is that of the constitutionality of the decision.

The Football Union of Zimbabwe, a players' representative union has already raised objections with ZIFA and is likely to take the matter to court if its views are rejected by the national soccer governing body.

"It's discrimination. The first division is a professional league, and there's no article in the Zifa constitution saying that over-age players should be prohibited," declared FUZ Secreatary General Paul Gundani.

The former Warriors' hardman further argued that there is a better platform to develop young talent other than turning the 2nd tier of Zimbabwean soccer into a youth league.

"If we want to develop football we need to get a junior league up and running, rather than turning the first division into a junior league," Gundani argued.

Gundani reveals further that the players to be affected by the new rules might have been left in the dark by the nation's football chiefs, and he argues that as a result, his association is under pressure from its constituency.

"Many players have been phoning us to say that they are against the idea as they stand to lose their livelihood," Gundani revealed. 

While giving young soccer players a chance to develop their talent in a competitive league like the First division is a commendable move, nothing suggests that proper consultation with all major stakeholders preceded ZIFA's decision.

There is a general consensus in Zimbabwean football circles that proper attention must be given to junior football development. Zimbabwe has enough talent to win CAF or even world youth tournaments.

The thought and gesture by the mother soccer governing body is a step in the right direction, and needs to be commended.

It is however unlikely that all First Division clubs will be able to raise squads of 25 players who are under the age of 25 between now and the lower league's kick-off.

ZIFA might be forced to shelve the plans until after proper consultation with the players' union, the clubs who seem unhappy with the move, and other key stakeholders whose buy-in is essential for the success of the project.

For any project to succeed, you need the support of those on whom success and progress hinges. The players and the clubs are without a doubt, key stakeholders, whose views ZIFA need to consider before implementing this noble idea. 


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