BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
THE Warriors look set to play their upcoming 2021 Cameroon Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Algeria in Zimbabwe amid indications that CAF will offer temporary relaxation of the requirements for international standards at stadia as a result of challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Zimbabwe date African champions Algeria in back-to-back ties between November 9 and 17 in a mouth-watering Group H top-of-the-table clash.
CAF had initially banned all Zimbabwe stadia from hosting international matches at the beginning of the year after failing to meet the required standards.
The development put Zimbabwe in a quandary of having to look for an alternative home ground beyond the country’s borders before the Covid-19 pandemic brought all football activity to a halt.
However, the government, through the Sports ministry, began work on two of the country’s biggest stadia — the National Sports in Harare and Barbourfields in Bulawayo — but CAF was not impressed after doing the initial inspection back in March.
CAF has now tasked the national association to inspect their own stadia ahead of the Algeria home qualifier.
This time around the inspection may overlook the issue of bucket seats and electronic turnstiles – the major outstanding requirements at the National Sports Stadium — since the matches are set to be played in an empty stadium.
CAF director of competitions Samson Adamu was quoted in the South African media on Friday revealing that the temporary relaxation of the requirements — regarding aspects such as the stands — had been made due to the organisation behind closed doors of the next international matches.
Zifa communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela revealed yesterday that a local inspection team had started the process of assessing the improvements made at the country’s two main stadia.
“We have been requested by CAF to re-inspect Barbourfields and National Sports Stadium ahead of the upcoming Afcon qualifier match against Algeria. CAF basically wants to assess what progress has been made since the last inspection visit before they make a decision whether to allow us to host the match or not,” said Gwesela.
“But it is our considered opinion that the government and the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) have done very well to ensure that the two facilities are spruced up, notably the National Sports Stadium. It is our hope that the outstanding items like bucket seats and electronic access will be completed in due course.”
The inspection will also affect the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers, that will be played next year, which means that there will be more time for the stakeholders to work on the outstanding areas beyond 2020.
Although a lot of work has been done to improve the playing surface, setting-up of a new media centre and renovations of the dressing rooms, very little progress has been made with regard to bucket seats.
Gwesela, however, revealed that they were happy that the Sports ministry, which is bankrolling the exercise, had made some progress towards completing the outstanding issues related to bucket seats and electronic turnstiles.
“The government has already flighted a tender to that effect [bucket seats]. We thank the government and SRC for such hard work and in ensuring that our facilities are brought to the required Fifa and CAF standards,” he said.
The government is understood to have initially intended to offer the tender for bucket seats to a foreign company, but Covid-19 restrictions have posed serious logistical challenges, hence revising the decision.
Zifa was scheduled to inspect Barbourfields yesterday before assessing the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday.
In spite of the prevailing challenges, CAF remain firm that stadia meet international standards and the continental football body has reportedly teamed up with experts, including its experienced general coordinators, for the exercise.