Zimbabwe‘s participation in next January’s Africa Cup of Nations finals was put in jeopardy on Tuesday, as the country’s Sports and Recreation Commission suspended the board of the football association [ZIFA].
The commission said it acted “following several incidences of gross incompetence on the part of ZIFA”, including alleged sexual harassment of female referees and allegations of fraud.
The announcement comes after Zimbabwe finished bottom of their World Cup qualifying group, failing to win a match.
It is certain to be condemned by FIFA and attract the threat of a suspension from world football’s governing body, which rigorously looks to protect its member FAs from government interference.
Usually, governments are forced to back down under the threat of their country being suspended from all football activity.
The SRC, a statutory body mandated to regulate and develop sport and recreation in Zimbabwe, said it received a report of alleged sexual harassment of female referees by the technical staff within ZIFA.
“Despite several requests for the matter to be decisively dealt with, ZIFA did not give the matter adequate attention in view of its gravity,” said the statement.
“Whereas the nation has made significant strides in empowering the girl child to be an active participant in sports, incidences of sexual harassment should be conclusively dealt with to enable a conducive environment for participation by all.”
It also detailed other “non-exhaustive” reasons, including alleged mismanagement and lack of accountability in the use of public funds.
The reasons stated also included sending national teams outside Zimbabwe without COVID-19 clearances and the failure to invest in grassroots football from FIFA’s development fund.
Zimbabwe were held 1-1 by Ethiopia in their last World Cup qualifier at home in Harare on Sunday after a late equaliser.
Their form in the campaign contrasted with earlier this year when they comfortably qualified for the Cup of Nations finals.
During the World Cup qualifiers, they sacked their Croatian coach Zdravko Logarusic, while on Monday their captain Khama Billiat unexpectedly retired from international football even with the chance to play at the Cup of Nations months away.
Zimbabwe’s football association has over the years been in a constant cash crisis and the team was kicked out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers after failing to pay an outstanding debt to former coach Jose ‘Valinhos’ Claudinei despite a grace period given them by FIFA.
ZIFA has also lost several court cases to other creditors and suffered the ignominy of the sheriff hauling away office equipment to sell off and repay debts.
They have also been forced to use a bus to take their players to Malawi for a qualifying match, travelling over 12 hours on a 600km journey.
ZIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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