Football stakeholders have denounced acting ZIFA president Gift Banda for allegedly misappropriating FIFA equipment to run his campaign for public office in this year’s general elections.
The Njube-Lobengula Member of Parliament is facing serious allegations of diverting football equipment, purchased by FIFA funds, for political campaigns.
Banda recently held an eight-team Under-17 football tournament in his constituency where participating teams received football equipment purchased by a FIFA grant for FIFA-approved development programmes.
The association had in its custody equipment worth US$791 000 and most of it has since been dispersed in unclear circumstances. Banda, in particular, has been accused by some within the football circles of taking advantage of the equipment to oil his campaign for public office.
“There are many things that have been happening of late regarding the ZIFA equipment. There was a football tournament that was held recently in Bulawayo where FIFA equipment was donated to participating teams for political mileage by one of the ZIFA board members. Football should be football and let’s not take advantage of our offices,” said a disgruntled ZIFA official.
Apparently, there was a resolution made by the ZIFA board for members to get an allocation that they would dole out to areas of their choice.
According to the available information, all ZIFA board members got their allocations with recalled former finance chief Philemon Machana donating in Gutu, while Farai Jere chose Murehwa South and Barbara Chikosi gave to Chimanimani.
The ZIFA board members, including Jere, were not readily available for comment yesterday. However, the distribution of the equipment has been a contentious issue of late. Banda was the latest when he held a tournament in which three academically gifted footballers from Njube and Lobengula suburbs aged between 16 and 17 years were selected for US scholarships after impressing a panel made up of coaches.
The tournament attracted grassroots football teams such as Vitality, Njube Spurs, Njube United, LMC Youth Academy, Nkalikha Stars, Lobengula Rovers, Gugulesizwe and High Fliers. All the clubs were from Njube and Lobengula.
Banda said there was nothing amiss about his actions since it was a resolution made by the ZIFA board.
But the Confederation of African Football were the first to call out ZIFA in a letter by its secretary-general Véron Mosengo-Omba who said ZIFA should not access FIFA funds and equipment until the FIFA suspension had been resolved.
By misappropriating the equipment, the current ZIFA board may have contravened article 7 of the CAF Regulations which speak on members’ obligations. Mosengo-Omba also said ZIFA should stop using FIFA funds after more than US$108 000 was withdrawn by mid-last year.
“Members of CAF shall have the following obligations: a) To respect, and ensure that their own members respect, at all times unreservedly the principles of ethics and fair play enacted by CAF and FIFA, the principles of integrity and sportsmanship as well as the Statutes, regulations, decisions and directives of CAF and FIFA,” wrote Mosengo-Omba.
They could also find themselves in trouble with FIFA after they also used FIFA funds for the association’s programmes.
“Pursuant to Article 16 paragraph 3 of the FIFA Statutes, ‘A suspended member association may not exercise any of its membership rights.’, such rights being defined in Article 13 of the FIFA Statutes.
“Consequently, CAF hereby directs ZIFA to immediately cease using and accessing any funds deposited by FIFA or CAF in the ZIFA accounts.
“Please note that a breach of this directive will be regarded as a violation of the FIFA Council decision dated 24 February 2022 as ratified by the FIFA Congress on 31 March 2022 and may subject ZIFA or the officials involved to disciplinary sanctions,” wrote Mosengo-Omba.
Lawyers of the ousted ZIFA board members have also written to Banda and the current board members urging them to stop distributing the FIFA equipment.
“You purport to be a law-abiding grouping yet you continue to appropriate to yourselves rights of ownership to someone’s property without their consent and express authority. Such actions are indeed worrying,” wrote Admire Rubaya of Rubaya and Chatambudza Legal Practitioners.
“Our clients have been in official custody of the said equipment before their illegal suspension and therefore, they are duty bound to account for every item of the FIFA-funded equipment which they suspect to have been ransacked since November, 2021.
“While we dispute that our client left equipment worth only US$751 000, our client requests that you forthwith stop appropriating the said equipment to yourselves and your side-kicks without authority as such is a criminal act.
“Although you may pass as many resolutions as you want, that is not sufficient to clothe your actions with lawfulness. Your actions remain illegal and unacceptable to the donor for you are not recognised even for a second by FIFA.
“It is a very sad period for our football that while the Government of Zimbabwe is busy re-engaging with the international community, your grouping is hell-bent on contributing to undoing such through complete rubbishing of our cherished respect for property rights.
“While CAF and FIFA continue to anxiously await for your refund of the US$108 000 cash which you siphoned from the Bank without their authorisation, you have proceeded to commit further heinous offence by appropriating to yourselves FIFA equipment under the guise of conducting ZIFA programmes authorised through dubious resolutions.
“Our clients are very doubtful that even the SRC and Ministry of Sports, being arms of the Government that may have supported most of your activities, which we deem unconstitutional, would still be in favour of these latest unlawful acts of ransacking private FIFA assets in the fashion you have resolved.”
Some ZIFA councillors refused to speak on record for fear of reprisals. ZIFA Southern Region chairman Andrew Tapela said he was in the dark since the working environment at ZIFA had largely become “toxic”.
“I don’t want to comment on the basis of the fact that there is a very toxic environment currently in our football. Also, I have not been attending Congress for reasons best known to us as the Southern Region.
“Probably, the best people to talk to are the ones that have attended those meetings where the resolutions were made.
“If the ZIFA Congress decides through the executive committee who benefits from the FIFA equipment and how, it’s up to the people who were present.
“So because I have not been attending those meetings, I am not privy to any decision or resolution regarding that matter,” said Tapela.
However, Banda said the distribution of the equipment was above board as it was a resolution made by the ZIFA board.
“It’s not a secret that we have distributed football equipment to the area zones, provinces and regions, who are all members of ZIFA.
“There was a resolution that was passed way before the former president Felton Kamambo and the other board members had been suspended by the Sports Commission and eventually getting booted out by the ZIFA Congress.
“The resolution said that every board member would get an allocation of football equipment that he or she would distribute to the areas of their choice as part of the distribution process so that equipment reaches far-flung areas as well.
“All the board members got their allocations and they distributed it to the areas of their choices.
“No new resolution was made when I came in; we just used the same resolution and the minutes are there in black and white.
“The equipment had to be distributed because it had been lying idle for two years. At least the equipment reached the intended beneficiaries in our development thrust, unlike what happened with the previous board,” said Banda.
“How can it be an election gimmick when you are giving football equipment to school-going children?” he said.
“For your own information, I have been involved in football for many years. For 10 years, I single-handedly sponsored a team that once played Premiership football.
“It’s something that has always been in me. I am not a fly-by-night administrator. If I had used my own resources from my pocket for all that long, running a professional football team, how can I not be able to hold a one-day football tournament for juniors?
“One wonders why this has become a Banda issue now when it was a board resolution and all the board members have played their part in the distribution,” he added.
But many observers in the local football circles feel that the acting ZIFA boss has been “off-side” for using the FIFA equipment to gain some political mileage in his constituency ahead of this year’s general elections.
By Eddie Chikamhi