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Removal of Zimbabwe Football Coach Could Change Team's Outlook - 2002-12-15

In Zimbabwe, it seems everyone loves soccer. However, the performance of the national team called the Warriors has given Zimbabweans little reason to celebrate. Now a change in team management could change that.

For many years the chairman of the Zimbabwe Football Association, known as ZIFA, was Leo Mugabe, nephew of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. But now, in a surprising boardroom coup, the younger Mugabe has been removed from his powerful post. The irony is that he was not even in the country when the axe fell. He was in Nigeria, where the women's national football team was taking part in a continental competition.

Mr. Mugabe took charge of ZIFA in 1994. Since then, the declining fortunes of the national team declined even further. Soccer fans accused Mr. Mugabe of incompetence and there were widespread allegations of corruption. But he ignored calls for his resignation, saying he had been duly elected and then re-elected to his post.

The end came when FIFA, the international soccer governing body, wondered what happened to more than $60,000 given to ZIFA for the construction of football grounds at Zifa Village, for training young players.

ZIFA board members called an emergency meeting at which it was noted that Mr. Mugabe had failed to give a satisfactory explanation of what happened to the money. They then passed a vote of no confidence, effectively firing their chairman.

However, Mr. Mugabe was reached in Nigeria by a local paper and says he won't take his dismissal lying down. He denies mishandling the FIFA donation and claims his ouster is unconstitutional.

One ZIFA official says Mugabe's departure should lead to a revival of the fortunes of the national soccer team. He said he hoped business people in Zimbabwe would start supporting the Warriors again as they used to.

They had distanced themselves from the game as allegations of incompetence and corruption grew more insistent. Under new ZIFA management, fans say, they may once again have something to cheer about.