Zimbabwe football ban over as FIFA ends 17-month suspension

Source: BBC Sport

FIFA has lifted its suspension of the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) and has set up a temporary committee to operate the organisation for a year.

The decision of world football’s governing body means that Zimbabwe will be in Wednesday’s draw for the African qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup.

“I want to assure Zimbabwe that you have the complete support of Fifa and of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) in ensuring that Zimbabwean football reaches the heights we’ve all desired,” Solomon Mudege, Fifa’s head of development in Africa, said at a news conference in Harare on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe was barred by Fifa in February 2022 after the country’s government-appointed Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) suspended Zifa.

Fifa outlaws third-party interference in the running of a football association.

As result, Zimbabwe were excluded from the qualifiers for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2024 Women’s Afcon, among other competitions, and Zifa had its Fifa funding frozen.

The reasons for the SRC’s intervention included alleged sexual harassment of female referees by Zifa technical staff as well as allegations of fraud within Zimbabwean football’s governing body.

In September 2022, Fifa suspended former Zifa official Obert Zhoya for five years after adjudging him to have sexually harassed three female referees.

The newly-formed normalisation committee has been mandated to complete its duties by 30 June 2024. It will restructure Zifa, review its statutes and organise elections for a new board.

The committee will also ensure a proper financial handover to the new Zifa board and has been asked to establish a collaboration agreement between the SRC and Zifa to address issues of sexual harassment.

‘Worth the small window of pain’

Many countries take swift action to reverse any Fifa ban but Zimbabwe has proven unusual in that the SRC was prepared to take as much time as it deemed necessary to address serious concerns within Zifa.

National sports minister Kirsty Coventry, who is Africa’s most decorated Olympian thanks to her seven swimming medals, says that it has been worth delaying any return, given the seriousness of the issues which caused it.

“I know many judged us very harshly for the decision we took, but the way in which our football was running was heavily dependent on what the administrators wanted and was only for their benefit,” said Coventry.

“We have an opportunity to build and rebuild a solid foundation that sees all of the stakeholders thriving – our fans, youth players, women’s and men’s players, coming together, uniting.

“It was hard, but it was worth it, to have a way forward that’s going to benefit us as a country – 110% it was worth it.

“When we are winning tournaments, we will all be saying that it was worth that small window of pain.”

Zimbabwe has never won a Nations Cup – at any level, nor in any category – but has won several regional titles, with the last coming when they won the Cosafa Cup, contested by southern African countries, in 2018.

Next steps

In a letter signed by secretary general Fatma Samoura, Fifa says that all of the conditions for lifting the suspension have been met.

Having previously insisted on the reinstatement of the Zifa board, led by Felton Kamambo, since the four-year mandate of the board expired last December, Fifa has ruled that “from a legal standpoint it is no longer possible for Kamambo” and his fellow officials to resume their position of leadership.

Fifa had also objected to the SRC appointing a restructuring committee, but since the latter ceased to exist in December, that objection is also moot.

With Zimbabwe back in the international fold, concerns will now mount over the country having no stadium approved to host international football.

Minister Coventry insisted there are plans for the National Sports Stadium in Harare to be renovated to meet international standards, which is a requirement for Caf to allow the capital to stage matches again.

The normalisation committee will be led by former Dynamos FC chairman Lincoln Mutasa, former Highlanders player Sikhumbuzo Ndebele, former national women’s team coach and captain Rosemary Mugadza, and lawyer Nyasha Tashinga Sanyamandwe.

The committee, whose personnel are determined by both Fifa and Caf, must follow strict procedures to access much-needed funds from Fifa’s Forward programme, which can dispense up to $2m a year to member associations.

“During the term of the normalisation committee, Fifa Forward funds will be paid in monthly instalments and upon receipt of a budget, monthly reporting and other supporting documents such as bank statements,” Samoura stated.

“In addition, a forensic audit of Zifa’s accounts will be carried out as soon as possible.”

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