By Petros Kausiyo
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has rejected the Zimbabwe Football Association’s plea to have the Warriors clash against Algeria played at Barbourfields Stadium, while the spread of coronavirus in the North African country has also thrown the epic clash up in the air.
The Warriors are supposed to travel to Blida for the first Group H matches on March 26, while ZIFA were hoping to host the Desert Foxes at Barbourfields on March 31.
However, ZIFA have since expressed to CAF their strong reservations of travelling to Blida, which has been the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Algeria.
CAF’s decision to reject ZIFA’s plea to have the match played at Barbourfields means that the Warriors would have to play their home game in South Africa.
However, the Desert Foxes could also find it difficult to secure entry into South Africa amid revelations yesterday that yet another case of the deadly disease had been recorded.
South African health authorities have since heightened screening, especially of travellers originating from countries plagued by Covid-19.
ZIFA have been making a spirited campaign to have the match played at Barbourfields in Bulawayo.
On Monday last week, the association appealed to CAF to rescind its decision to condemn the venue, citing the ongoing refurbishment sponsored by Government.
It, however, emerged that CAF late on Friday told ZIFA in a letter from the acting secretary-general, Abdelmounaim Bah, that they were not in a position to immediately review their ban on Barbourfields for the clash against Algeria.
As a fall-back plan, ZIFA had already engaged the South African Football Association (SAFA) to assist them secure an alternative stadium.
The Sunday Mail can reveal that SAFA have secured Dobsonville Stadium in Johannesburg as the venue for the Warriors match.
Sources at SAFA and CAF also confirmed that the former’s officials were at the 24 000-seater stadium yesterday to make preparations for the match.
“When CAF banned the stadiums in Zimbabwe, ZIFA engaged SAFA to assist and the initial take was on Orlando Stadium, but now they have settled on Dobsonville.
“So, even this morning (yesterday), men have been at work at the stadium in preparation for the game, and they have been in touch with the guys at ZIFA,’’ the sources said.
Acting ZIFA vice president Philemon Machana, however, professed ignorance of CAF’s new decision, insisting that they remained hopeful the game could be played at Barbourfields.
“We are still hopeful that something can still happen and we can have that game played in Bulawayo. But we had told SAFA to provisionally prepare Dobsonville as a fall-back position as we also planned for the worst . . .
“All efforts are still being made by all stakeholders, led by Government, to have the game here and we must all keep working. Elsewhere, CAF have given rights to host where stadiums have not been built and those rights were given based on government guarantees, and in our case, Government is spearheading the refurbishment apart from also having given their guarantees,’’ Machana said.
CAF sources, however, revealed that the continental body had told ZIFA that it would be too late for the logistics of the Algeria game to be put in place on time.
“CAF have already fined ZIFA US$4 000 for late confirmation of the venue for their home game. Although CAF are sending inspectors to Zimbabwe, those are for the possible certification of the National Sports Stadium and Barbourfields to host the World Cup qualifiers in October, and not for this month’s game.
“The letter from the CAF secretary-general outlines the regulations and procedures that have to be followed for another inspection to be undertaken and the timelines that have to be followed,’’ the sources said.
Despite losing the bid to host Algeria in Bulawayo, ZIFA are ratcheting up pressure on CAF by demanding that the continental body switch their showdown with Algeria from Blida following a spike in coronavirus cases in the North African country.
Although CAF issued a statement on coronavirus on Friday, it however did not immediately take a stance on the imminent qualifiers.
“CAF is following with great attention the evolution of the situation of this pandemic affecting our continent.
‘‘Eight major African football countries have reported cases to date: Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and South Africa.
“CAF has mandated the medical committee to monitor the evolution of this disease and to set up measures to protect the health of players and all actors of the game.
“A team has been set up, under the authority of the CAF president, made up of experts from various fields, particularly medical, who are essentially responsible for the health of the players and the members of the African football family,” said CAF in a statement.
But ZIFA are not keen on taking chances, fearing this could affect the careers of the Warriors.
Algeria has been the focus of attention after nine more cases were confirmed by the Algerian health officials last Wednesday.
Worse, the cases were reported in the same Blida province where the Warriors are scheduled to play, some 30km south of the capital, Algiers.
According to reports from Algeria, the cases involved members of the same family bringing t the number of people affected within the same family to 16.
It is against this background that ZIFA chief executive Joseph Mamutse has upped the ante on CAF to advise them the venue of their first match against Algeria on time.
Mamutse has also sought the guidance of Government through the Sport and Recreation Commission, and wrote to the regulatory body’s director-general Prince Mupazviriho, who, in turn, indicated that they were keen to first know CAF’s response on the matter.
ZIFA, however, noted their genuine concerns, with Mamutse also reportedly following up his letter to acting CAF secretary-general with a telephone call to the Cairo-based institution and another letter yesterday.
“We write to your good office to register our serious and valid concerns regarding the coronavirus scourge.
“We have just recently come across several articles which seem to inform that there have of late been various incidents of the coronavirus infections in Algeria. You will note that our national team is pencilled in to play in Algeria on the 26th of March 2020 and we have genuine fears for our team and citizens should the team go ahead and play in Algeria.
“We, therefore, kindly request and propose that the match be moved to another venue outside Algeria, where they have been no reported cases of the epidemic.
“Should CAF insist that we play the match in Algeria, we seek for written and acceptable commitments from CAF detailing how and what measures are and shall be in place to ensure our team’s safety.
“We hope, dear secretary-general, that our request to move the venue of the match will receive your positive feedback so as to protect our players, officials and general supporters of football in Zimbabwe and the world at large,’’ Mamutse said.
He said it was also imperative that ZIFA be advised of the CAF position on time in order to finalise the travel logistics for the Warriors, the majority of whom are dotted at different bases around the world.
“For our planning and logistics, we request that this issue receives your urgent attention and we will appreciate your response at the earliest possible time’’.
In his letter to the SRC, Mamutse also reiterated ZIFA’s serious worry over the coronavirus scourge.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association has learnt with concern media reports about coronavirus cases in Algeria. We kindly request your esteemed office to advise us if it is safe to travel to Algeria for the AFCON Qualifier match slated for the 26th of March 2020 in light of these reported cases of the deadly coronavirus . . . ,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, we have also written to CAF on this issue.”
Mupazviriho noted that the commission’s advice could only be made after consultations with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and having observed CAF’s position on the matter.
“Reference is made to your e-mail raising concerns regarding Covid-19 infections in Algeria. Please kindly ask CAF what are the likely implications of travelling to that country.
“Once we have their input together with information from the Ministry of Health that is when an informed decision can be made.
“Please urgently get CAF views,’’ Mupazviriho said. The Sunday Mail