Fans ecstatic as soccer returns

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SOCCER-LOVERS cannot wait to see the first match of the season after several months of inactivity following the COVID-19-induced lockdown that suspended all sporting activities.

This follows government’s approval of the return of the game but under strict COVID-19 guidelines.

“The Zimbabwe Football Association has preliminarily accepted terms tabled by the regulator Sport and Recreation Commission (SRC) on March 15 2021 as a precondition for the resumption of football. The decision has been transmitted to the Sports and Recreation Commission and, most importantly, to all our affiliates who have been eagerly waiting for the return of the beautiful game. ZIFA is grateful to Government for providing the platform for a safe and sustainable return to football. We are confident that the proposed standard operating procedures will result in low risk of infection as well as manageable costs for all stakeholders,” ZIFA said on Tuesday.

Football enthusiasts have been starved of local action since December 2019 when the season ended with FC Platinum crowned champions. 

As the 2020 soccer season was about to resume, COVID-19 struck and the country was in total lockdown for three weeks. 

After that, there was no activity in all sporting activities.

Most sports codes were allowed to resume save for soccer, rugby and basketball which are classified as high risk sports in terms of spreading the respiratory disease. 

Football return last year had a false start with the proposal of a bio-bubble concept where teams went to camp and play in a tournament in their regions. 

The proposal never saw the light of day.

Only the national team and FC Platinum have been playing matches but under strict COVID-19 protocols. 

Local action has been affecting the national team and FC Platinum who were playing in Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League and Confederation Cup. 

The national team, especially CHAN, where players are drawn from the local clubs, had several fitness problems owing to inactivity.

FC Platinum were in a similar situation when they were playing in the African safari. 

There was no local league at home, unlike their opponents, and that affected their performance. Unfortunately, the platinum miners were knocked out of the CAF competitions but the resumption of the domestic league might be of benefit to the national team who play two crucial Africa Cup of Nations qualifier matches against Botswana and Zambia this month.

On the modalities of the local league, ZIFA has promised to pay the referees’ fees for all leagues and COVID-19 testing, lessening the burden on the teams. 

“ZIFA will keep its obligation to foot referees’ fees for all league matches as well as footing some costs for COVID-19 testing. The Association has further engaged all affiliates for further input to ensure that the eventual standard operating procedures we shall use are relevant to local football realities,”said ZIFA.

However, there might be no spectators to watch the matches for the time being. Maybe later the doors will be opened to the soccer-lovers to watch the games.

Ronald Murombedzi of Msasa in Harare commended the Government’s move to allow the return of the world’s most followed sport but was worried about seeing the games live from the terraces.

“I am really happy with the return of the games and I hope very soon the fixtures will be out. I hear that we will not be allowed to watch the games but I feel they should only allow half or even a quarter of the stadium capacity to watch.  

“They have made a good decision, especially on the future and lifeline of the players. To be idle for 13 months is not easy as some players gain weight and lack fitness. It is really good to watch my DeMbare doing what it knows best at Rufaro Stadium,” he said.

Whawha, Bulawayo City, Tenax and Cranborne Bullets were promoted to join the topflight after winning their respective 2019 First Division leagues. 

Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services will have two clubs in the premier soccer league this season (Whawha and Tenax).

Bulawayo City and Whawha returned to the elite league while the other two teams are new to the topflight.

With the long break from football activities, all hope is that the previously condemned football facilities will be certified to host premier soccer league matches. 

Rufaro, Sakubva and Gwanzura stadia were deemed sub-standard to host competitive matches. 

As a result, the giant National Sports Stadium was the only option for Harare clubs Dynamos, CAPS United, Yadah, Herentals, Black Rhinos, Cranborne Bullets and Harare City.

The sponsorship issue was still pending when the national lockdown was effected with previous sponsors, Delta Beverages under the Castle Lager brand, yet to renew.

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