Our good friends at 53 Livingstone Avenue exploded in anger on Thursday, livid that we had dared to criticise Ashford Mamelodi, the FIFA development point man in this region, for his shocking, if not insulting, remarks about our 2018 World Cup no-show. Interestingly, ZIFA believe it’s within Mamelodi’s rights to come here and tell us his piece of mind, no matter how foolish or insulting those remarks might be, and we don’t have similar liberty to tell him our piece of mind, simply because he is some big guy, both in position and built, from FIFA.
The most powerful man at FIFA, Sepp Blatter, has been viciously criticised by the international media but, to his eternal credit, he continues to engage the journalists and, even after the humiliation of having those fake notes thrown at him recently, he still had the dignity to come back and address the press conference.
That all this happened at the place that FIFA calls home, at their headquarters in Zurich, and not when Blatter had visited some country hostile to his management of world football, underlines the point why when you are in public office you have to live with the inevitability that criticism will come your way.
If Blatter can take all that, knowing that it’s something that comes with his job, why then should ZIFA go ballistic, in defence of a regional development officer, and feel it’s taboo for us to criticise him, even on the occasions he misfires horribly?
But ZIFA still felt we crossed the line, with our criticism of Mamelodi, for coming here to tell us there was nothing amiss about our World Cup no-show, even though we were the only African nation missing in action, and one of just two countries, among the 209 FIFA family members, not taking part.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association takes great exception to insults directed to Mr Mamelodi by The Herald of July 29 and July 30 2015,” ZIFA chief executive, Jonathan Mashingaidze, said in a statement.
“It is also mind boggling why the local daily would criticise Mamelodi’s honest opinion about Zimbabwe’s non-participation in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
“Mamelodi was reaffirming the fact that ZIFA is struggling financially to meet its obligations and it would be hard for them to manage high expense travelling associated with World Cup fixtures.
“He was urging zifa to spend and manage within their means and there was absolutely nothing amiss with his frank opinion.”
Yes, Jonathan, we also find it mind boggling that you found a lot of comfort in Mamelodi coming here to tell us that Somalia, who are playing in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, have a better chance of fulfilling their fixtures than us.
Even, more shocking, we find it mind boggling that you appear to agree with Mamelodi’s foolish views that we should, instead, concentrate on CHAN and AFCON, where he feels we are likely to do well, than spend months mourning about being expelled from the World Cup. If the World Cup is all about nations that will write success stories, only for nations that believe they have a chance of reaching the finals, why then did Bhutan, the worst ranked country in the FIFA family at number 209, enter to play in the 2018 World Cup and, when they beat Sri Lanka 1-0, why was their result so significant it was even celebrated by Blatter?
Why then did Anguilla (208), who leaked 16 goals against El Salvador, Cook Islands (207), who suffered a 0-30 hiding at the hands of Tahiti, Djibouti (207), Somalia (205), Eritrea (204), Andorra (202), Papua New Guinea (202) American Samoa (201), who were hammered 31-0 by Australia, feel it was important to be part of the 2018 World Cup show?
The World Cup, by definition, is a festival for the entire globe, the good, the bad and the hopeless, as much a parade for the powerful as it is for the efforts of the weak ones, and once it is reduced to just a show for the best, it loses its identity as a World Cup.
So this argument by Mamelodi, that we should mourn about CHAN or AFCON, where we have better chances of making the finals, is not only stupid but certainly outrageous because, if he really believed in that, why then is his native country, Botswana, taking part in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers when we know they will never make it to the finals?
We are unlikely to win the Rugby World Cup but we play in the qualifiers for that festival, and slip into depression when our team fails to make it to the finals, because we feel the pain of not being part of the grand show even though when we know we were not likely to win.
We know the Springboks are a more powerful rugby team than us, and are certain to destroy us if we ever meet them, but — in the event that happens — there will still be a number of Zimbabweans in the stadium supporting their Sables because that is the way it is, it’s our birth right to do so, and a David taking on Goliath is one of sport’s greatest romances.
And, Ashford, that is what the World Cup presents, once every four years, and trying to tell us that it’s not worth it to invest our dreams, in this tournament, is not only an insult to our players, who were ready to fight for their nation, but even to the souls of those 13 fans who perished at the National Sports Stadium, 15 years ago, supporting their Warriors in a World Cup qualifier.
IT’S MUCH MORE THAN JUST PARTICIPATING ASHFORD
One of the enduring images from Zimbabwe’s adventure at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 in Australia and New Zealand, in February and March, were the sights and sounds of hundreds of Zimbabweans, proudly wearing their national colours, who converged at stadiums Down Under, to support their Chevrons.
Entire families, the young and the old, came in their hundreds to support the Chevrons, in Hobart, Brisbane and in Auckland, even though they knew that the team’s chances of winning the Cricket World Cup were very, very slim.
By the time the Chevrons arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, for their final Cricket World Cup group game against India, they were already out of the running for a place in the knockout stages, having lost all their group games, including one against Ireland, but still the Zimbabwean fans there found it necessary to host the players, at a banquet, and assure them of their endless support.
This is what sport is all about Ashford, bringing together people in support of either their club or their national team, and the World Cup provides the biggest stage of them all, for all of us to unite, as a country, in support of the men and women who will be wearing our colours, representing people they don’t know, but aware of the responsibilities they carry for every one of us.
The biggest crowd to watch the Warriors, Ashford, was the 71 1 60 fans who poured into the National Sports Stadium to support the team, in a showdown against Cameroon, in the battles for the ’98 World Cup qualifiers.
There is a reason why so many people, who probably knew that our chances of ever qualifying for the World Cup finals, let alone winning the tournament, were very slim, still found it romantic to be lured to the stadium, in such huge numbers, to cheer their men that day. You will never get such a crowd for a CHAN game, you will never get such a crowd for an AFCON qualifier, because Ashford, the World Cup is special, in a league of its own, and it just doesn’t come very often.
Blogger, John Molinari, explored this issue, with his informative piece dubbed “Why does the World Cup matter so much?” which people like Mamelodi and my good friend Jonathan Mashingaidze should probably read to get a better appreciation why there has been so much noise about our 2018 World Cup no-show.
“As trite and glib as it may sound, soccer is much more than just a sport — FOR HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD, IT IS THE ULTIMATE CULTURAL EXPRESSION,” Molinari wrote on the website, SportsNet.
“The World Cup manages to elicit a more passionate, fervent and almost religious-like following from more fans around the planet than any other event, including the Olympics.”
And, maybe, the views of these key people, in helping Molinari come up with his powerful and fascinating piece, may also help Mamelodi and Mashingaidze understand why we have been going crazy about our Warriors’ no-show in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
United States midfield star, Michael Bradley says: “THE JOY THAT PEOPLE HAVE OF WATCHING THEIR COUNTRY PLAY IN THE WORLD CUP, AND THE EXCITEMENT AND THE PASSION THAT IT ELICITS, IS SOMETHING THAT NO OTHER EVENT — BE IT IN THE FIELD OF SPORTS, ENTERTAINMENT OR POLITICS — IN THE WORLD CAN MATCH.”
His father Bob, who was the coach of the Egyptian national team that beat us home and away in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, even puts this grand show into perspective.
“WHEN YOU TRAVEL AROUND THE WORLD, TO DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, THE PASSION IN EACH COUNTRY FOR ITS TEAM TO ALL THE PEOPLE TO SEE THEIR TEAM PLAY AT THE WORLD CUP, THAT’S WHAT MAKES THE WORLD CUP UNIQUE AND SO SPECIAL.”
Former Canadian national team coach, Tony Waiters, says: “I’ve been to 82 countries in the world in my travels for soccer. It’s the language of the world. It removes all obstacles and boundaries.”
Then, there was the explanation given by BBC football writer, Tim Vickery, who is based in the football hotbed of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil.
“Football is a universal language that we speak with different accents,” explained Vickery. “THE BIGGEST PATRIOTIC ACT THAT MOST PEOPLE ENGAGE IN IS CHEERING ON THEIR TEAM DURING THE WORLD CUP. IT REACHES PEOPLE WHO HAVE NO INTEREST IN FOOTBALL OTHERWISE. IT REACHES THEM AT A PROFOUND LEVEL BECAUSE IT IS THEIR COUNTRY AND THEIR PEOPLE BEING REPRESENTED IN THE EYES OF THE REST OF THE WORLD.”
AND, Nigel Reed, a commentator for CBS Sports, said there was nothing like the World Cup.
“The tournament has a way of enabling citizens to puff out their chest; of giving them licence to say ‘THIS IS OUR TEAM’ AND HAVING SOME PRIDE IN THEIR NATION, AND NO OTHER SPORTING EVENT DOES THAT BECAUSE NO OTHER SPORT TRULY EMBRACES SO MANY PEOPLE FROM EVERY CORNER OF THE GLOBE.”
Need I say more Ashford? Need I say more Jonathan?
WERE OUR FOOTBALL LEADERS SELLING US A DUMMY?
Mashingaidze’s support for Mamelodi’s shocking remarks that we were better off, not playing in the 2018 World Cup because there were fears we would not fulfil the fixtures, since ZIFA are being weighed down by debt, made me wonder why, since March this year, were our football leaders telling us that they will fight for the Warriors to play in the qualifiers for Russia 2008.
Was this just a gigantic dummy and, if it is, isn’t it an insult to the very constituency that they are scheduled to serve, with honesty, where every word they say has to strengthen the bond of trust that exists between them and us? This is something I copied from the official ZIFA website, published on March 20, 2015, at 3,30pm, just days after FIFA’s announcement that we had been expelled from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers:
“Zimbabwe will play World Cup qualifiers”
Dear Media practitioners
SUBJECT: ZIFA’S POSITION ON FORMER COACHES’ DEBTS
The Zimbabwe Football Association would like to inform the football fraternity and the nation at large that it is working round the clock to ensure that Zimbabwe is reinstated to participate in the preliminary qualifying round of the Russia 2018 world Cup.
The association has already engaged Claudinei Georgini’s lawyers and we are optimistic that we will extinguish the pending debt at the earliest time possible.
ZIFA has also been in constant communication with Tom Saintfiet and we are confident that we will also be able to amortise his debt.
Issued by Jonathan Mashingaidze (ZIFA CEO)
March 13, 2015, ZIFA CEO Jonathan
Mashingaidze Talks To B-Metro
“The Association has already engaged Valinhos lawyers and we are optimistic that we will extinguish the pending debt at the earliest time possible.
“ZIFA would like to inform the football fraternity and the nation at large that it is working around the clock to ensure that Zimbabwe is reinstated to participate in the preliminary qualifying round of the Russia 2018 World Cup.”
ZIFA apologies to the nation, appeals against decision
“It is with a heavy heart that we apologize to the nation for the sad development which we are currently seized with managing,” said Mashingaidze.
“In our appeal to FIFA, we indicated that we are keen to service Georgini’s (Valinhos) debt and other all our debts but liquidity issues still limit our abilities to do as such at the rate the debtors might expect.
“To the nation and the whole football family, all we ask for is support and patience as we still believe that unity is the only asset which can take us out of the current hiccup and to the next level.”
Against that background, where our football leaders even went to the extent of engaging Valinhos’ lawyers, came up with a payment plan, appealed to FIFA for a reversal of the ban, why has it become acceptable to them, just three months later, that it’s right for us not to be part of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers?
Why, suddenly, they now tell us that “Mamelodi was reaffirming the fact that ZIFA is struggling financially to meet its obligations and it would be hard for them to manage high expense travelling associated with World Cup fixtures. He was urging zifa to spend and manage within their means and there was absolutely nothing amiss with his frank opinion.”
Didn’t you know of this high expense when you guys were engaging Valinhos lawyers, when you were appealing to FIFA for a reversal of the ban, a statement on the ZIFA website, boldly declared: “ZIMBABWE WILL PLAY WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS,” and when you were apologising to the nation and telling us not to panic?
Why did we enter in the first place?
And, please, tell Mamelodi that the opponents that the Warriors play, in the World Cup or the Nations Cup qualifiers, are the same and, for the umpteenth time, his remarks were, at best, foolish, and — at worst — an insult to us.
To God Be The Glory!
Come On Young Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!