Non-fulfilment of fixtures needs relook

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CONGRATULATIONS to Bulawayo Chiefs, again, and the other three clubs that have won promotion from the Zifa regional Division One football championships to the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League.

– Innocent Kurwa

Well done and trust that some of these clubs stay up rather than be relegated after just a season’s flirtation with the country’s elite.

Due to lack of sponsorship, the Division One championships do not attract much attention and most people that are not directly involved only notice these leagues at the tail end of the season, if only to see which team(s) will be competing against their own favourites in the forthcoming season.

A lot of shenanigans can, and in fact, do go unnoticed and these take away the shine from winning the Division One title.

Just a look at the Southern Region Division One fixtures in the last quarter of the title chase shows that quite a few teams failed to travel to away fixtures and when that happens the host team are awarded a 3-0 victory.

On the face of it there is surely no problem with this, but I think there is quite a few problems that arise from this age-old and apparently readily accepted practice.

Before delving into misgivings, it is probably worth pointing out that when a club fails to fulfil matches pretty early in the season, they are removed from the championships and the few teams that had played them have the points they won against such a team taken away.

The differentiating point is that if a team now failing to fulfil fixtures has played 14 or less matches, points are docked from those that won against such defaulting team; once the team has played 15 or more matches, points are awarded to their opponents when the defaulting team fails to turn up.

Of course this disadvantages the teams who lose points and money as they would have incurred match expenses — ground hire, referees and security if at home and travel costs if away and all these in addition to payments to players.

Imagine a team travelling all the way from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls on their first fixture of the season, winning and then having the points taken away some six weeks into the season! This happened many a times in the Southern Region over the years.

But there are also a lot of other costs to clubs in the league when one club can no longer fulfil fixtures.

Suppose, for example, a key player, maybe the match winner, for some team received a red card while playing against a team that is now no longer fulfilling fixtures.

The red card carries with it an automatic three-match suspension and, once the suspension is over, a “fine”, so to speak, as his club is required to pay $20 or so to Zifa to retrieve his playing licence.

In the meantime, his team might have lost three matches it would have won if the suspended player had been fielded.

These lost points are not compensated for all the adjustments are made due to the non-fulfilment of fixtures.

Needless to say, the expenses incurred are not refunded, giving a financial advantage to those that are now no longer having to play this team, especially if there it is a costly journey away to the home turf of the defaulting team.

These same arguments apply in cases where existing teams that are otherwise fulfilling their matches fail to turn up for one or the other game, for one reason or another.

For example, Zimbabwe Saints last weekend failed to travel to Ntabazinduna, less than 40km from Bulawayo, to fulfil a fixture against NTD and the latter were awarded a win on a 3-0 margin.

In the case where teams that have all along been turning up for their matches, a sudden failure to turn up for a fixture raises more questions than answers, especially if the team being awarded a walk-over is fighting relegation and gets three points on a silver platter.

Apart from disadvantaging other sides fighting relegation, such failure to turn up also raises ethical issues and, more poignantly, the first question that needs to be addressed is whether the failure was deliberate and planned and, possibly in a worst case scenario, a result of match-fixing.

What this all says is that the current system of docking points won against a team that defaults before the halfway stage of the championship or awarding walk-over points beyond the halfway stage of the season is not the best as it leaves loopholes for malpractices, especially at the tail end of the season.

When teams are jostling for survival it is very possible to connive, to use a more diplomatic verb, if not engage in match-fixing.

The current system as practised in the Southern Region shouts for a review and a drastic change!

A suggestion is that at the start of each season it be mandatory that each team, as part of the terms for participating in the Division One championship, post a travel deposit with Zifa equivalent to the total of costs for all matches each club must fulfil outside a radius of 40km from its home ground.

The total can be arrived at using the lowest possible return cost for such a trip and should include an allowance for meals for a squad of at least 25 players and five club officials.

The team can then turn to Zifa each time they feel they do not have adequate funds to travel for an away fixture beyond 40km from their base.

However, if the team fails to fulfil a fixture without approaching Zifa to draw from their deposit, then Zifa must sequestrate the equivalent from this deposit and also require, as part of the stringent rules, that the team pay an equivalent amount as a fine for not fulfilling the fixture.

This latter bit is then paid to the team they were supposed to play to refund them match expenses. This sounds tough indeed, especially when funding a club in Division One is very difficult, but something has to be done to right this disease of teams that know, from budgeting, that they do not have adequate funds to last a season, nevertheless register to play and also to prevent possible match-fixing towards the end of the season when some teams might connive to miss matches in favour of a team fighting relegation.

It is honestly better to have a division of less than 14 teams, but teams who will all fulfil their home and away fixtures.

Such cleanliness helps in attracting sponsorship and in also bringing a lot of efficacy to the championship, especially to the relegation scramble at the end of the season.