By Ian Zvoma
The year was 2008 and a lot of things – some good, some bad – had taken place during the soccer season. As members of the Sports Writers Association of Zimbabwe-SWAZ, we had gathered at the Kwekwe Country Club to select the Soccer Star of The Year.As history will remind you, the selection process is usually dominated by heated and emotional debates, but in the end sanity always prevails because journalists are by and large an educated and rational lot.
As usual, the proceedings were marked by intense debate, but one issue stood out when it came to selecting the Coach of The Year. The issue surrounded Norman Mapeza, the then Monomotapa head coach after he had allegedly been involved in a scuffle with an Eastern Lions marshal at the entry point at Sakubva Stadium in Mutare.
While other panelists acknowledged that Mapeza had, according to reports, been involved in the scuffle which led to him being denied entry into Sakubva Stadium, he had not been charged or sanctioned by his club, PSL and ZIFA, which means he was eligible for nomination as Coach of The Year.
On the other hand, others believed that he should not be considered because the SWAZ rules indicated that those who should be considered for nomination should set exemplary behavior and should not have been involved in acts which bring the game of football into disrepute, hence there was a deadlock on the matter.
I had my own opinion, because not only did I sympathise with Mapeza, who had an outstanding season in charge of Monomotapa and eventually won the league title, I also believed that in the first place a local coach should not have problems entering a match venue where his team is playing and no one has the right to even stop and question him, including that overzealous Eastern Lions man.
Secondly, Mapeza had not been charged by an institution which matters in football including FIFA, so to me the decision to question his nomination by some of my colleagues did not make sense and up to this day I stand by my views.
What followed this heated debate was not only the logical option in a democratic process but was also the only way forward considering that there was a deadlock. Veteran soccer commentator, Charles Mabika, who was the chairperson, RIGHTLY put the issue to vote with the majority voting against Mapezaâ€™s inclusion in the process and those like me who sympathised with him lost.
However and most importantly, we accepted the outcome of that democratic process and the proceedings of the day continued and I guess the majority did not care and they have not even lost sleep over the issue since then.
But the most important thing is that a precedent in deciding who is nominated once there is a deadlock on matters of principle had been set and as they say, history has a way of repeating itself.
On Saturday the 4th of December 2010, two years after the Mapeza incident, members of SWAZ gathered again in Kwekwe, the venue was different, but the city, the organisation conducting the process and most importantly, the Chairman, were the same as in 2008.
Like I said, the past has a way of revisiting us even when we least expect it. Another debate came to the fore as soon as rules and regulations for the process were being spelt out. One distinguished gentleman stood up and suggested that Washington Arubi and Ashley Rambanapasi and former Highlanders coach, Muhammed Fathi, should not be considered because of the role they allegedly played in the abandoned BancABC Super8 match between Highlanders and Dynamos at Barbourfields Stadium.
Arubi was accused of lifting the middle finger in front of the Highlanders supporters, which allegedly resulted in an incident in which his teammate, Philip Sithole, was injured and taken to hospital, while Rambanapasi was being accused of not only throwing a missile at the Bosso fans, but also encouraging his teammates to walk off the pitch.
Unfortunately, besides what was reported in the print media, there was no video footage to back these allegations. So the gentleman who rose to make the suggestion argued that it was not anyoneâ€™s fault that there was no motion picture to back the allegations, adding that the bottom line is that reporters who covered the match from the print media saw the incidents and wrote about it, hence there was enough evidence that the two players brought the game of football into disrepute and should not be considered for selection.
That is when all hell broke loose, with others including the chairman arguing that the two players had not been charged or sanctioned by the PSL, ZIFA or their clubs. But those who were calling for the players to be excluded stuck to their guns, saying it was inconsequential as had been the case in the Mapeza incident in Mutare in 2008. To them the two players also brought the game of football into disrepute and SWAZ, as in the past, had the moral ground to bar them from being considered. They further argued that the earlier ad hoc committee ruling which awarded the game to Dynamos and was upheld recently, fingered the two players and accused them just like Fathi, of playing a part in the abandonment of the match.
Again, as happened in 2008, there was a deadlock. What was logical as far as I am concerned was to put the issue to vote and I suggested that the chair facilitate such a voting process as it was, again in similar fashion to the 2008 incident, the only logical thing to do for the sake of progress after the debate over the issue had gone for almost an hour.
But those who suggested that the two players were ineligible were incensed by the Chairpersonâ€™s decision to â€œDICTATEâ€ terms as he suggested that the process should go ahead with the players included. To them, he had no authority to do that because he was just the chair who had to facilitate a process in which the panelists were the main players and as such they reserved the right to question matters as and when necessary.
One of the journalists openly asked the chair why he did not want to facilitate a process whose precedent had been set in 2008 with the same men in charge. But Mabika stuck to his decision, adding that as the chairperson, he was ordering the house to go ahead with the process with Arubi and Ramabanapasi eligible.
What followed was baffling, at least as far as I am concerned, because I strongly believe that despite our differences we should be able not only as adults, but as learned people, to resolve them. People vary in opinion, how they interpret certain issues and how they perceive certain ideas, but at the end of the day they should be civil enough to find common ground. After all, we are the same journalists that day in and out criticise the PSL, ZIFA and even FIFA when they go wrong. How then do we expect to be taken seriously when we cannot resolve issues among ourselves?
The chairman announced that he was excusing himself, which basically meant he was walking out because he could not be associated with such a flawed process. I respect him so much as an individual and as a veteran in this business. Few are blessed with his knowledge of local soccer which dates back to the colonial era. The guy knows his soccer and on the local and even continental small screen he ranks among the best. It will take me ages to reach where he is if ever I will, because I am still learning the ropes; I am just but a baby in this business as compared to him. Just recently, he made history after being included as a panelist for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’ Or Award.
For the record, this is not a personal attack on anyone because thatâ€™s not my style and certainly not the best way forward, but despite the aforementioned, my dear brother is only human and as colleagues in this business we should be able to remind each other when things are not done properly. I stand to be corrected and opinions to the contrary on this matter are welcome.
I believe walking out on a group of colleagues who have so much respect and who look up to him was not a solution, especially considering that a precedent had been set in 2008 with him in charge. It was the wrong thing to do because four out of the 15 panelists also walked out in solidarity with him. Itâ€™s and was their democratic right to choose not to be associated with a process they believed was flawed at least at that point, but it was wrong because the 4 took away votes which could have helped Arubi and Rambanapasiâ€˜s cause. I say so because if they had not walked out and stopped to think not with their emotions, but for the good of the game, they could still have influenced events and changed the outcome of a process they now label as flawed.
Because they walked out, those who wanted the players barred won the vote that followed and the two players were excluded. So, contrary to what has been said and allegations of regionalism and so forth, they actually betrayed Arubi and Rambanapasi.
They used their emotions to solve an issue which needed maturity, because the task at hand was no mission impossible. All that was needed was to follow the 2008 example, put the issue to vote and who knows, their vote could have weighed in the two playersâ€™ favour?
Those who remained rightfully did so with some voting for and others against the motion to bar Arubi and Rambanapasi. The majority won and the two players were not part of the nominations. The 11 finalists were duly selected and they will be awarded on a date to be announced.
Some people have been disappointed because this and that player was not included. Others are up in arms with SWAZ for including certain players at the expense of others.
It should, however be noted that very few Soccer Star of The Year selection processes have been flawless. One that stands out was the 1997 selection process which showed that despite all the claims of professionalism, some journalists just cannot shrug off club affiliation. I was at university then, but strongly remember that SWAZ was split between those who wanted Edelbert Dinha to be soccer star and those who believed that Tauya Murehwa had a better season. In the end, Walter Tshuma who hardly deserved the accolade, was the compromise deal. But there was no soccer stars calendar and no awards with the process being shelved for some time. Those who want to judge the present day journalist were part of that fiasco – lest they forget.
When all has been said and done, I believe the 2010 Soccer Star of The Year finalists, including Desmond Maringwa, deserve their place in the sun. Or are we now saying that the man we all believed deserved to be in the Dynamos starting line up and if he had played in the champions league match against TP Mazembe at the National Spots Stadium things could have been different – is suddenly not good enough?
Consistency is the basis for being taken seriously and some of us should learn not to use certain arguments only when it suits us. Maringwa is a fine player, even now that age is catching up with him and that horrible injury affects him here and there, but he is one of the few creative midfielders left in this country and on his day, like he has done on so many occasions this season, he can change the complexion of the game with one twist, dummy and defense splitting pass.
It is very unfortunate that one or two players were unlucky not to make it, but it happens all the time. Those who were selected met the basic requirements and just for the sake of this argument, how many from this part of the country can identify Fortune Ncube if they meet him in the street? But some of us who have had the opportunity to watch him will tell you of a football genius from Hwange Football Club who on his day will dribble past a cluster of defenders and score a great goal.
Our football right now needs everyoneâ€™s support and we should depart from concentrating on trivial issues. Those 11 boys deserve our support because they are Zimbabwean and carry the hopes of a nation whose football image is on the mend. We can criticise the process as much as we want, whenever we want, influenced by this or that act, but the 11 are OUR SOCCER STARS.
Dear Lord, deliver us from evil!
The opinions expressed in this article are the authorâ€™s and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.