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Date: 23 September 2017

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ZIFA's player suspensions: Who is fooling who?

[Posted 02 Feb 2012]
[By Editorial Comment]
Dube and Mashingaidze, with Sepp Blatter. Who is communiting the real Zifa position between the two?

Confusion, as has become the norm some times at ZIFA House, appears to be back in full force, with new revelations from the organisation's President Cuthbert Dube that contrary to world media reports, only three Warriors players have been excluded for the AFCON 2013 qualifier against Burundi, not the 67 or 80 number suggested by the media.

On Tuesday the soccer loving world woke up to chilling news that the Zimbabwe Football Association had suspended 67 players for their alleged involvement in match-fixing masterminded by an underworld betting syndicate led Singaporean Perumal who is currently jailed in Finland after being convicted of match-fixing in that country.

According to investigations by the Zifa probe team led by Ndumiso Gumede, the Warriors took part in  numerous trips to the Far East where they played matches and some Zimbabwean players allegedly received bribes to deliberately lose matches.  

An Independent Ethics Disciplinary Committe led by retired judge Ahmed Ebrahim has been put in place to decide the fate of about 80 players implicated in all those trips, and the committee is due to wrap up its work and submit a final report by end of March. 

What is puzzling is that the Zimbabwe Football Association CEO Jonathan Mashingaidze has been widely quoted by many respectable media powerhouses like the BBC Sport suggesting that those 80 players implicated in the match-fixing scam currently under investigations by the Ethics Committee, will not be allowed to take part in the Afcon 2013 qualifiers.

"We have taken the position that whoever is going to be called up for any national assignment should not be among those implicated in match-fixing," ZIFA CEO Mashingaidze told BBC Sport on Tuesday.

The interesting thing is that while some African newspapers like NewZimbabwe.com even had the liberty to use the word "ban", BBC Sport appears to have accurately captured what could have transpired at the Zifa Board meeting on Monday, at least according to Dube's latest clear-the-air interview with government owned The Herald, a leading sports paper in Zimbabwe.

In an interview with The Herald, Dube denied that 67 or 80 players were suspended or banned as suggested, but that only three players who appear to have been seriously implicated in the report following initial investigations led by the Ndumiso Gumede Committee, will not be considered for the Burundi tie.

"We have not banned a single player. We don't want to interfere with the work of the Ethics Committee that is why we called them an independent body," Dube told The Herald.

Dube went on to suggest that the three players who will be excluded for selection for the Burundi tie on February 29, will be suspended because of their performance during the final 2012 AFCON qualifying match against Cape Verde in Praia.

"Method Mwanjali, Thomas Sweswe and Nyasha Mushekwi's performance in the last Africa Cup of Nations match against Cape Verde was way, way below par. It is understandable in sport it does happen that one day you can go off form.

"Even the the Mighty Warriors didn't perform well in their recent match but it complicates things when one is implicated.

"We are saying these three should definitely and officially not be in the line-up for the Burundi match until they have been cleared by the Ebrahim Committee," Dube added.

Even though Dube did not go on to suggest that the three players suspended are also suspected of having been involved in fixing the outcome of the Cape Verde/Zimbabwe match played in Harare in October 2010 which ended 0-0, his CEO's statement during the  BBC interview appears to be suggesting that.

BBC Sport suggests that Mashingaidze told them that there was match-fixing during the drawn match in Harare.

"I can confirm that the [alleged match-fixing] cartel was involved, there were wads of notes availed to certain players ahead of the match, and the performance says it all," BBC Sport quoted the ZIFA CEO as having said.

Probably by excluding Mwanjali, Mushekwi and Sweswe from the Burundi match, ZIFA is trying to take caution and not give rise to talk of match-fixing if the team's performance is to give rise to suspicion in any way.

The niggling worry where Zifa's communication is concerned is that we probably haven't heard the last in the possible series of twists and turns in this report of player suspensions coming from Zifa House.

Picture this: On Tuesday, the Zifa CEO rushes to the media, thereafter reports come out suggesting that 67 or 80 players have been suspended. A day later, following a public outcry, the President of the same organisation issues a statement which appears to directly contradict what the CEO told media houses!

That sounds familiar, doesn't it? Only two years ago, during the Tom Saintfeit appointment saga, one Zifa board member announced the board's confidence in Saintfeit and his apppointment, while Dube sang a completely different tune.

Siding with popular sentiment at home in favour of local coach Norman Mapeza, Dube declared that he was in favour of a local coach and that Mapeza would be appointed national team coach. We all know the confusion that followed that.

The negative effects of that confusion and Zifa's flip-flopping on key issues affecting the national game are still felt today. The Warriors drew the match  against Cape Verde because the appointment of co-coaches (Mapeza/Madinda Ndlovu) done by the confused Zifa board ended up affecting morale and unity in the team.

There were reports that some players sided with a coach who they believed was responsible for giving them call-ups during the training sessions, and disrespected the other who was perceived not to favour them in national team call-ups.

Now, the confusion in the technical department caused by Zifa is the real reason for the team's failure to win at home in October 2010. That is an objectively known fact.

For a person of the stature of a ZIFA CEO to go to the media and now suggest that that the reason for the poor performance in that drawn match in Harare was down to the involvement of the match-fixing cartel sounds not only like an attempt to find a scapegoat for Zifa's poor judgement at the time, but is totally irresponsible and smacks of a poor sense of leadership on the part of Mashingaidze and the board he represents.

The conflicting statements from Dube and Mashingaidze give rise to the following questions.

Firstly: Who is the official mouthpiece of ZIFA? If it is the CEO, did he have the mandate to speak on such a sensitive matter to the BBC and other media houses following the Zifa emergency meeting on Monday?

Secondly: If Mashingaidze had the mandate to speak on behalf of Zifa, and reported that 67 or 80 players were suspended for the next AFCON qualifier, what is his President Dube trying to do when he contradicts the CEO's report?

Thirdly: Is this another time when we will witness the Zifa President breaking ranks with the rest of the board to issue out a different statement from his board?

Fourthly: Where is this contradiction within one body leave Zifa , or interestingly where does it leave the person of the president who presides over a board that contradicts itself when unity of purpose matters most?

Finally, the question in the minds of many soccer followers is: Who is fooling who in this whole saga? Has Mashingaidze been misquoted by the likes of BBC Sport, Goal.com and many other powerful media houses? Or is Dube back to his flip-flopping on key issues?

It would appear that despite the repurcusions associated with taking a drastic step like excluding players from selection for national team matches until their fate has been decided by the Ethics Committee to be chaired by Ahmed Ebrahim, a retired judge, suspending the implicated players could have merits.

By hindsight, Zifa will realise that this is the sort of decision they should have taken at the time allegations of match-fixing involvement by the Warriors' players surfaced.

How does one expect even an innocent player who is carrying the stigma of match-fixing to focus fully on a match? There is always this possibility that even if a player is out of form, because he is already implicated, people will find it easier to suspect that he was paid to underperform.

So Zifa must have done the nation and the players a huge favour by barring them from participating in the previous AFCON qualifiers. Therefore the decision to do it now before qualifiers begin could be plausible.

The only problem with Zifa is their planning and poor timing for doing things. Surely this very same board was aware of the number of the implicated players long before now. Why did they only think of taking the drastic decision with only 29 days left before the crucial qualifier away to Burundi?

The fact that Mashingaidze and Dube are issuing out contradictory statements on such a key issue is not helping matters at all. This is a time when only one person should speak on behalf of the organisation.

This is the time when Zifa must issue statements which are not capable of double meaning or interpretations. Enough damage has already been caused on the image of Zimbabwean soccer.

Dube and Mashingaidze are not helping matters by selling the soul of the nation away by sparking unnecessary controversies in the media. Their actions, while purporting to communicate a game-cleansing exercise could end up appearing and sounding like 'grandstanding' as other people have described it.

Recklessness in communicating positions is a sign of poor judgement and ultimately very poor management of a communication strategy (that is if Zifa has any such strategy to talk about). 

 

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