HARARE –After the 2019 Zimbabwe Premier League concluded in December that year, football players and fans looked ahead to the next campaign in March 2020.
The onset of the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic called for a ban by the government on all sporting activities in Zimbabwe.
The coronavirus-prevention move has seen the income of many professional athletes in the country disappear. In particular, football players have been badly hit.
Moses Chasweka, a local social soccer player-coach describes the current situation.
“These (local) premier league players are leaving a very miserable life. They live on soccer, but at the moment there is nothing to write home about. They eat sleep and drink football, but at the end of the day, there is nothing, no incentives, no COVID-19 allowance at the moment. They are surviving by the grace of God.”
As such, unsanctioned social soccer ‘money games’ — where teams play high-risk fixtures for a cash pot, have sprung up across the nation.
These games are often played on poor surfaces and with little social distancing.
The football players find themselves between a rock and a hard place as they make the hard decision to expose themselves to injury and coronavirus in order to feed their families.
Devon Chafa, a professional player at Ngezi Platinum FC, expresses the players’ right to play in these games while emphasising the importance of staying safe.
“Our contracts stipulate that we don’t have to play those games. So I would advise to… for me to say they cannot play it’s a lie. They will play, but they have to take precautionary measures.”
The governing body, the Zimbabwe Football Association – ZIFA has condemned participation in ‘money games’ on the basis that they are breaking the country’s laws to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and are also in breach of ZIFA’s code of ethics.
Xolisani Gwesela, the ZIFA spokesperson outlined the organisation’s position.
“We encourage players to remain ethical as they conduct their football activities and not to be in any way in breach of national laws, that do not allow the gatherings or the organisation of football activities during this Corona era.”
Pressure on Zimbabwe’s footballers to partake in these unofficial ‘money games’ will most likely continue until league football resumes.