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GOVERNMENT yesterday said the recent zifa elections did not pass the test to win public approval of the process and challenged the leadership to spruce the organisation’s battered image, dissolve its crippling debt and provide a conducive atmosphere to take the game to another level.

Sport, Arts and Culture Minister, Andrew Langa, met with the new zifa board, led by its president Cuthbert Dube, in Harare yesterday and challenged them to come up with a new turnaround strategy to drive the game, saddled by a crippling debt and stalked by bad publicity that drives away sponsors, to new heights.

Langa also ordered the new zifa board to, as a matter of urgency, bring closure to the long-running Asiagate scam which has brought the country under the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

Dube won a second term to lead zifa after crushing his rivals Trevor David Carelse-Juul, Leslie Gwindi and Nigel Munyati but the polls, which also brought a new-look board that has a number of fresh faces who have promised to make a difference, was condemned in some quarters as having been held on an uneven playing field.

Langa and his deputy, Thabitha Kanengoni-Malinga, met the new zifa board in his boardroom in the capital at a meeting that was also attended by the Sports Commission representatives.

Most of the new board members, senior officials from the ministry and the Sports Commission director-general Charles Nhemachena attended the meeting where all the parties pledged to work together for the development of the game.

The minister congratulated Dube and the new board members on their election victories and immediately reminded them to get down to serious business since the national game was crying out for attention.

Dube reiterated his board’s commitment to grow the game from grassroots up to the senior level, including women’s football, but bemoaned the various challenges they face.

Langa said the zifa board should put behind them the controversies that have stalked the organisation in recent years and work closely with the Sports Commission and his ministry to try and take football in the country to another level.

Their immediate challenge should be to clean up the image of the association for the good of the game.

“First you need to improve the image of zifa as the lead agency for football in our country. As you are aware, the public perception of zifa leaves a lot to be desired,” said Langa.

“There is need to develop a strategy for building the credibility of zifa in managing the affairs of football.

“More recently, the zifa elections did not receive due public confidence. In this regard, it is important that we accept that the zifa stakeholders also have a duty to contribute to the success of football.

“We may have our differences as to who we prefer to be in leadership of the association but the bottom line is (whoever) is at the helm has the mandate to make our game indeed beautiful.

“To this end I call on the board to develop strategies to embrace football stakeholders to assist our national cause by adopting a positive attitude which will see everyone, individuals and institutions contributing solutions that our football needs rather than celebrating anything that goes wrong at 53 Livingstone Avenue.”

The minister also applauded the football association on how they have managed to keep their relations with fifa intact in light of the numerous challenges they have faced.

Langa was elated by the proposed construction of a new zifa office building under the auspices of the world football organisation and promised to approach the ministry of local government for the provision of suitable land.

zifa are currently sitting on a US$500 000 grant from fifa for the project.

Langa also pledged to approach the Ministry of Finance to consider tax incentives in the next budget for the corporates that invest in football.

However, the association’s crippling debts, which are now estimated to be hovering above US$5m, were cited as a cause for concern but the zifa board gave an assurance that the debt will be dissolved in the next four years.

Langa urged the association to adopt viable financial models and to seek corporate partners to ensure that they stay afloat.

“The new board must address financial matters plaguing the association. While I would like to applaud the previous board for bringing the audit to zifa’s financial statements up to date, I understand that several audits were qualified and require further attention,” said Langa.

“Furthermore, zifa is heavily burdened with debt that this new board must address with utmost priority. I urge you to proceed to find strategies for addressing this debt in order to secure credibility and transparency especially amongst stakeholders.

“Naturally an improved financial status will attract potential partners to support football.”

As a matter of urgency, the minister said, zifa should also seek to put to finality the Asiagate saga.

He said government will assist zifa wherever possible.

The association’s spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela described the meeting as fruitful.

During the meeting, the board highlighted to the minister that it was committed to serve football in respect of the general administration, creating pathway for development, ensuring that the hanging debts are cleared within the next four years and the creation of reliable revenue streams.

The board also asked the government to intervene to force for a downward reviewing of levies which have turned out to be a rip-off to clubs and national teams.

Dube expressed confidence and optimism on his new term and pledged to establish a vibrant commercial arm to finance the operations of the association through such activities as mining, farming and retailing.

“Also discussed was the issue of competitions and the board told the minister that they are dedicated to ensure successful competitions for youth, women and all football portfolios. The board expressed their uttermost desire to organise a successful FC Cup this year.

“All zifa accounts for the past four years were audited and as per regulations they will be presented to the assembly for ratification.

“It is also significant to note that the issue of the new headquarters was discussed and both the minister and the president agreed that land be secured this month,” said Gwesela.

Source : The Herald