By Eddie Chikamhi
Poor management has left the National Sports Stadium exposed to the kind of sanctions which saw the Confederation of African Football banning the country’s biggest stadium from hosting international match. The giant stadium has fallen short when it comes to the need for it to have bucket seats, turnstiles and surface maintenance equipment.
The lack of bucket seats, turnstiles that will guarantee the safe movement of fans, in the event of an emergency, the bumpy surface and poor state of dressing rooms have been highlighted by CAF as part of the reasons the country’s main stadium failed their latest test.
CAF banned the giant stadium from hosting international matches, until renovations are carried out.
Rufaro, which is in a desperately poor state despite a recent multi-million dollar facelift by City of Harare, remains outlawed from staging such games.
The Mbare stadium is in a worse state than was the case before the “facelift” amid fears the millions, which council poured into the project, might have slipped into the pockets of people rather than improving the stadium. Mandava Stadium in Zvishavane has also failed to pass the test.
Barbourfields was handed a temporary reprieve with CAF officials demanding that some improvements be done or it will suffer the same fate.
Fears abound that the Warriors and other national teams could be forced to play their home matches outside the country in what would be a huge embarrassment for the nation.
It has also emerged that the Warriors told their management, ahead of their 2021 AFCON qualifier against Botswana, that they were not comfortable playing at the bumpy National Sports Stadium and wanted the match moved to Barbourfields.
There have been complaints from the Warriors that many of them are ending up picking injuries whenever they come home for national duty.
The maintenance of the stadium rests with the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing after the Chinese Government handed over the facility in 1987.
The stadium has hosted many important events, including the 1995 All-Africa Games.
Recommendations made after Zimbabwe hosted the continental Games, especially those related to the evacuation of people in the event of an emergency, were never implemented in full.
The plan was that it was safer for the people to be evacuated onto the field, in the event of an emergency, than for them to try and push their way out of the stadium.
Thirteen fans died at the giant stadium in 2000 in a stampede while this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans, in Sheffield, England.
The National Sports Stadium was closed for 20 months, from November 2006, for major renovations under the auspices of the Chinese Government.
According to the information on the China Aid Data website, the Asian country, which has proved to be Zimbabwe’s all-weather friend, granted the country US$10 million for the renovation of the stadium in 2006 in preparation for the 2010 World Cup.
Initially, the Chinese government had given a grant of US$5.8 million to fund the improvements.
However, the amount almost doubled because of rising costs.
The then Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Ignatius Chombo said a number of areas, including the roof, public address system, electronic scoreboard, sewage system and offices, needed to be renovated.
The description of the work was recorded under the Project ID 18845, according to the China Aid Data website.
“In October of 2006, China began the renovation of the Zimbabwe National Sports Stadium in the capital of Harare.
“Phase one of the renovation was expected to be completed within 20 months at an initial cost of $5.8 million USD, disbursed with a previous grant provided by the Chinese government.
“Jiangsu International Economic-Technical Cooperation is responsible for the project.
‘‘The maintenance work includes repair of the giant stadium’s roof, toilet facilities, attendant sewer reticulation system, scoreboard, public address system, sub-station equipment and electrical reticulation components.
“Offices will also be refurbished and redecorated. In April of 2009, the renovations were completed. Phase two (making improvements on the playing ground) of the renovations were expected to be completed in 2010.
‘’In 2010, China handed over the finished stadium to the Zimbabwean government. The total renovation was completed at a cost of $10 million USD.”
However, red flags have been raised over the lack of maintenance by the CAF inspectors.
ZIFA communication manager, Xolisani Gwesela, yesterday said the latest verdict by the CAF stadium inspection team has left Zimbabwe in a tight spot.
The CAF inspectors looked at many items essential to the modern game that include the state of the pitch, dressing rooms, access areas, medical and media facilities as well as floodlights.
The doping rooms, which are mandatory, were found to be non-existent, with no basic equipment.
“It’s a sad situation. This is why we have always been appealing, time and again, to the local authorities and stadium owners to take serious action when it comes to the upgrading of facilities.
“All over in Africa, stadiums have been improving. It’s only us who are lagging behind.
‘‘CAF noted in their letter that we have shown no commitment in that area and they have made it clear that we could be forced to play some of our home matches outside the country if we do not show any commitment.
“The ball is now in our court. In the meantime, we can only use Barbourfields for national teams and CAF inter-club competitions and it becomes a big challenge let’s say when we have two CAF games on the same weekend,” said Gwesela.
ZIFA have since approached the Government to help fix the challenge the national game now faces.
Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing yesterday were fruitless. The Herald