By Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE could soon face the embarrassing ordeal of having to play its upcoming 2021 international football home matches in neighbouring countries after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) found the National Sports Stadium and Bulawayo’s Barbourfields, among other major stadiums, as unsuitable for hosting international matches.
The CAF bombshell comes at a time the Warriors are set to take on the Desert Foxes of Algeria — the defending African champions — in a 2021 AFCON qualifier next month but their home match looks set to be played at a neutral venue unless ZIFA successfully appeals CAF’s decision.
ZIFA confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that CAF had notified the football governing body of its decision to bar the country’s stadiums from hosting international matches.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) would like to inform the football fraternity and the nation that it has received correspondence from the Confederation of African Football that our stadiums do not meet Confederation of African Football (CAF) standards to host international matches,” ZIFA communications manager, Xolisani Gwesela said in a statement.
“Consequently, CAF has made a decision to bar ZIFA from using local stadiums in all upcoming international matches.”
The latest decision by CAF comes barely two months after the continental body inspected local football facilities before condemning the state of the National Sports Stadium and Mandava.
Barbourfields received a partial clearance to host international matches, with the inspectors demanding that the floodlights at the stadium be improved.
ZIFA revealed that no improvements have taken place at all local stadia which leaves the country facing the grim prospects of playing all its home matches outside the country.
“Stadium authorities were notified of CAF’s position and the urgent nature of the situation at hand. To date, neither of the three stadium authorities has requested us to invite CAF for another inspection, a position which CAF has said led to the decision to bar all three stadiums from hosting international matches.
“While ZIFA is engaging CAF with a view to appeal this decision, we have asked stadium authorities to send us commitment letters detailing timelines on work that needs to be done before CAF comes for another inspection. Once we receive such commitment, we will send to CAF,” ZIFA said.
ZIFA added: “In this moment, we urge all stakeholders to work for a common cause for us to quickly right this wrong which takes away our sovereignty. We have been using stadiums which do not meet CAF and FIFA standards for a while now, but we need to put our heads together as a country to ensure that our stadiums are renovated to meet required standards.
“We unreservedly apologise to all football stakeholders for inconveniences that the decision has brought. We are hopeful that everyone who has influence to expedite the process of bringing our teams back home will do their part.”
The local football mother-body said it has started the process of looking for an alternative venue outside the country.
“Meanwhile, we have also started the process of looking for an alternative venue in neighbouring countries to host our upcoming matches.”
Zimbabwe will play Algeria on March 31 in the return fixture of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Group H back-to-back qualifier clashes.
The hardline stance by CAF comes at a time when authorities in Zimbabwe are facing a backlash because of the deteriorating standards of local sporting infrastructure.
The domestic league is facing uncertainty ahead of the new season as most of the stadiums do not meet the requirements.
Renovations are yet to start at the National Sports Stadium two months after the 60 000-seater stadium was banned.
The giant facility, which has suffered years of neglect, is managed by the Ministry of Local Government, while Barbourfields is owned by the Bulawayo City Council.