By Grace Chingoma
There is growing outrage in Zimbabwe and other parts of the continent after an outrageous decision by the Confederation of African Football to deny Khama Billiat a richly deserved award as the 2016 African Player of the Year based on the continent.
The award went to Billiat’s teammate, goalkeeper Dennis Onyango of Uganda while Zambian captain Rainford Kalaba of TP Mazembe settled for third place.
The big ’keeper received 252 votes, while Billiat had 228 in a voting system that is being criticised as heavily flawed and tainted by football politics.
The voting panel included CAF member associations, CAF media experts, media committee and the organisation’s Technical and Development Committee.
Only Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya, on the CAF Technical and Development Committee, voted for Billiat as the best player on the continent.
Incredibly, representatives from South Africa, where Billiat scooped all the awards, did not vote for him with veteran journalist Mark Gleeson voting for South Africa’s Hlompo Kekana while the SAFA representative voted for Onyango.
Immediately after the winner was announced on Thursday night at an elaborate function in Abuja, Nigeria, there was a public outcry on social media.
South Africa leading football magazine, KickOff Managing Editor Nick Said, yesterday told The Herald he was surprised Billiat lost the vote.
The Zimbabwean was voted the KickOff Footballer of the Season by the fans in South Africa.
“I was surprised that the award went to Onyango over Billiat,” said Said.
“Both players were outstanding for Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016, but for me Billiat made the greater impact in terms of winning the team’s games, not just with his goals, but also his assists and high work-rate.
“Take nothing away from Onyango, who is an outstanding gloveman, but it is also unprecedented for a ‘keeper to claim either the main Player of the Year prize or the Africa-based Player of the Year award.
“This is a democratic process, however, and we must respect the opinion of those asked to vote on the award, even if I personally would have gone with Billiat.”
South Africa-based Zimbabwean journalist, Lovemore Moyo, who also works for KickOff magazine, said Onyango played a big role for the Cranes.
“I think what could have given Dennis the edge is what most people didn’t see, which he did for his national team,” said Moyo.
“What I have heard from his coach Micho, who I am close to, is that he literally carried them on his shoulders towards their first qualification for the Nations Cup since 1978.
“On what most of us saw, which is in the PSL and in CAF competitions, I honestly feel Khama did better. Khama plays in a more demanding role where he is marked and has to create spaces from tight situations.
“Khama was the best player in the PSL last season, the second half of which was played over the last year.”
According to Moyo, the voting composition also influenced the outcome.
“The trouble is with the composition of the people who voted who are mostly from North and West Africa, who, I think, saw Dennis in his national team against Ghana, Togo and all those countries in that part of the world while Khama was playing against Swaziland and Malawi,” said Moyo.
“Still, I wish CAF could provide the details of how they came to this decision because I am convinced if the same performance by Khama had been put in by a player from West or North Africa, he would have won by a mile.
“If you are from COSAFA you must be very, very special to win this gong.”
Dynamos coach Lloyd Mutasa said he believes Billiat deserved the accolade.
“I would want to believe that Khama had an outstanding season from my point of view as a coach from a distance.
“You know everyone has his opinion, but at the end of the day the panellists have their opinions and the final say,” he said.
Iconic coach Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa said Billiat lost due to regionalism.
“I think we all thought our own player would win. He did very well, but Onyango is from East Africa and I think it has something to do with the voting pattern.
“North, West and East seem to go along compared to us from the Southern region, so it is like regionalism.
“They look at where you come from and then vote along those lines, that’s what I think,” said Chidzambwa.
StarFM sports journalist Spencer Banda said CAF has always been against Zimbabwean football.
“These people hate Zimbabwe. I remember in 1992 or 1993, Peter Ndlovu was a favourite and someone took it,” said Banda.
“It hurts guys. Statistics will tell you that Khama won more man-of-the-match awards than Onyango both at club and national level.”
ZBC sports news anchor Ian Zvoma said a ballot vote in sport was always tricky.
“I once said this, that voting in sports is tricky. They are opinions and the popular opinion might not necessarily be correct,” he said.
Local journalist Mike Madyira said Onyango was not even the outstanding player in his country.
“Watched a few Uganda matches and to say Onyango was main actor is out of place. Onyango couldn’t even win the best footballer in his own country, awards run by Uganda FA. And now he wins the CAF one.
“Onyango conceded six goals, one of them a monumental howler, at the FIFA World Cup Club and went on to be rewarded for greatness,” said Madyira.
However, Ronald Moyo, had a different view.
“Congratulations to Dennis. All your opinions are right. This is the same way some of us felt when Matawu (Clement) was voted Soccer Star of the Year ahead of Gombami (Honour), Mparati over Songani (Silas), when Kangwa was left out of that best 11.
“The list is endless, let it be, you can’t argue against the outcome. I am glad some of you were given the taste of your medicine,” said Moyo. The Herald