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Zimbabwe: Politics of World Football - FIFA in the Dock

AllAfrica | FIFA has been suspending national football teams from all international football events at will for a long time, citing "third party" meddling.

Zimbabwe and Kenya are the most recent countries to be sanctioned over the claims.

The sanction came after the Sports and Recreation Commission suspended the ZIFA board on November 16 last year, citing several allegations, including suspected sexual assault, misappropriation of finances, and age-cheating.

FIFA issued a warning to the Sports Commission and Zimbabwe in late December last year, when the Warriors were in camp preparing for the tardy 2021 Total Energies African Cup of Nations hosted by Cameroon, that if the ZIFA board was not reinstated, the country risked suspension.

To the delight of Warriors fans who wanted to see their team compete, no decision was made before the tournament's commencement, allowing the Warriors to participate.

In a letter to suspended ZIFA chief executive, Joseph Mamutse, FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura dropped a bombshell last Thursday, signaling that Zimbabwe would be suspended from international football activity until the Felton Kamambo-led executive committee was reinstated.

The suspension means that Zimbabwe's national teams and clubs are unable to compete in international events until it is lifted.

"This also means that neither the ZIFA nor any of its members or officials will be eligible for any FIFA or CAF development programs, courses, or training," the FIFA statement says.

However, a few days later, Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine, fearing that their security would be jeopardized as a result of several factors, notably Kyiv's plan to request membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Since then, political leaders have pressed UEFA to cancel Russia's hosting of the UEFA Champions League final in St Petersburg this year. The choice was made quickly, and France has been chosen to host the final. UEFA decided in response to pressure from Western political figures who were unhappy with Russia's choice on Ukraine.

FIFA, for its part, stated on Monday that Russia has been barred from all UEFA and FIFA tournaments, including the World Cup play-offs, due to the Ukraine crisis.

FIFA stated that football was "totally united here and in complete solidarity with all those impacted in Ukraine" in its statement.

FIFA's statement is silent on how football, which has long been instructed to remain politically neutral, became so engrossed in the Russia/Ukraine conflict.

"Following initial decisions by the FIFA Council and the UEFA Executive Committee, which envisaged the adoption of additional measures, FIFA and UEFA have today jointly decided that all Russian teams, whether national representative teams or club teams, shall be suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions until further notice," read a statement released on Monday.

Is football, however, truly detached from football? According to several scholars, including Dunning, Murphy, and Waddington (2002) and Spaaij, De Waele, Gibril, and Gloriozova (2018), political actors have used football for both social and political mobilization in recent years, demonstrating a network of relationships between football, politics, and society.

In Zimbabwe, the government has always supported football, whether through football tournaments such as the Independence Day and Unity Day trophies, or financially when teams, including the senior national team, were unable to raise sufficient funds for airfares or bonuses due to ZIFA's failure to raise sufficient funds.

The government, through the Sports and Recreation Commission, fully supported the Warriors' AFCON campaign in Cameroon in January and recently funded the Mighty Warriors' AWCON qualifiers versus Botswana.

FIFA never threatened to censure Zimbabwe for such efforts. However, now that major charges of sexual and financial abuse have surfaced, FIFA leaps to the defense of local football managers, claiming government involvement.

In other places of the world, sexual assault is not permitted, so why should Zimbabwe not examine it when it is allegedly perpetrated by football executives is perplexing.

FIFA must define "third-party intervention" because the women who have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse must also be protected by the law.

FIFA's decision to suspend Zimbabwe after it attempted to prosecute accused sexual predators indicates that national football officials are now beyond the law.

Cameroon President Paul Biya reportedly authorized the football organization in Cameroon to select former Indomitable Lions and Liverpool defender Rigobert Song as the national team coach on Monday, putting FIFA's honesty to the test.

Song, 45, took over for Antonio Conceicao, who led the national team to third place in the 2016 AFCON finals.

"On extremely high instructions from the President of the Republic, the coach of the men's national football team, Mr. Antonio Conceicao, has been replaced by Rigobert Song," Cameroon Sports Minister Narcisse Moulle Kombi said in a statement on Monday.

"The Cameroonian Football Federation (Fecafoot) is urged to take the necessary steps to ensure that these stringent regulations are implemented quickly and harmoniously."

Cameroon will play Algeria in a two-legged World Cup qualification play-off this month for a spot in Qatar 2022.

Zimbabwe and other "marked" countries are watching to see what will happen next.

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