Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
ZIMBABWE’S Warriors and Zambia’s Chipolopolo would have to wait another week before they square off again after the African Nations Championships failed to kick off at Rufaro yesterday following a no show by the Cameroon match officials assigned to handle the encounter.In a development that shamed the continental game and exposed the Confederation of African Football’s double standards, Cameroon referee Aurelien Juenkou and his assistants Fuanta Joseph Lambi, Elvis Noupue and Christopher Nde failed to show up in Harare yesterday forcing the cancellation of the game.
The CHAN final qualifier first leg will now be staged at the same venue on August 18.
A shadow had been cast on the game with Zifa last week protesting Caf’s decision to abandon their tradition of appointing match officials from within the zones for the CHAN qualifiers and assign referees from far away Cameroon.
Caf broke with tradition when they appointed Cameroon officials with Zifa arguing that the decision was not only costly but against the spirit of using referees from the respective zones where the participating teams are drawn from.
As fate would have it, the same Cameroon referees who were the subject of Zifa’s strong protests to Caf twice failed to connect to Harare to officiate in the first leg of this crucial final CHAN qualifier.
South African Match Commissioner Ian McLeod was left with no choice but to eventually call off the tie after alternative efforts to secure Fifa accredited replacement referees failed to yield fruit.
The Cameroon referees had initially been expected to arrive at 10 am on Saturday and when they indicated that they had missed their flight from Nairobi to Harare, there had been indications that they would now arrive yesterday, albeit in the afternoon.
That development then prompted McLeod in consultation with both Zifa and the Football Association of Zambia officials to reschedule the kick-off time and delay it by one and half hours and the game had now been pencilled in to start at 4.30pm.
But when it became apparent that the referees would not be in Harare on time, McLeod convened an emergency meeting at a Harare hotel which was attended by top officials from both Zifa and FAZ.
Zifa board member competitions Benedict Moyo, the association’s chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze, Obert Mamvura of the Zifa referees desk represented the host association while FAZ president Kalusha Bwalya and FAZ executive committee member Jeff Chipilingu stood in for the visitors.
Bwayalya had arrived for the game shortly after midday yesterday.
McLeod was also in touch with Caf’s CHAN competition director Amr Fahmy and the continental body’s general secretary Hicham El Amrani on the proceedings of the meeting.
It was at the end of that meeting that all the parties agreed to call off the game and reschedule it for next Sunday at the same venue.
This would now mean that the two rivals would have to clash in back to back as the return leg scheduled for Ndola on August 24 remains unchanged.
The development which left a sour taste among the domestic football stakeholders and disappointed the fans who had turned up, will also peg back the domestic Premiership programme which has been set for resumption on Wednesday after a long break forced by the international calendar.
McLeod declined to discuss with the media events surrounding the postponement of the game arguing that it was not his duty to do so with the former South African, Fifa and Caf panel referee referring all questions to Mashingaidze who revealed that Zifa had also been left counting the costs of the ill-fated game.
Mashingaidze revealed that they had frantically tried to secure replacement referees on Saturday when the Cameroon officials first missed their flight from Nairobi but Caf had turned down a proposal to have South African referees come in on the 11th hour.
The Zifa chief executive who also issued a public apology to the nation and to visiting Zambian fans said they had engaged Cosafa to try and salvage the game after which the regional body had facilitated through the South African Football Association for the release of the replacement officials.
But with Caf adamant that Zifa and FAZ needed to wait the mandatory 72 hours before looking for replacement officials, the bid to bring on board the South African officials also fell by the wayside.
A paper trail of the communication between Zifa, Cosafa, Caf and McLeod showed a situation that became desperate from Saturday morning after Juenkon and his assistants had not touched down at Harare International airport.
Mashingaidze said they had already incurred in excess of US$55 000 that was used for the logistical preparations of the abortive game including accommodation, allowances and transport expenses.
“The reasons which led to the cancellation of the game was the non arrival of the match officials from Cameroon. There referees were initially due to arrive on Saturday at 10am but they missed their connecting from Nairobi and indicated that there had been delays in their Kenyan airways flight from Cameroon.
“The referees then indicated that they would only come at 3.25pm today (yesterday) and in consultation with Caf it was agreed to delay the game by an hour. But we were informed the referees had missed their flight from Nairobi to Harare again for unknown reasons and would only arrive at midnight but we have since asked that instead of proceeding to Harare they should go back to Cameroon because the match is off.
“Our proposal to have the match played at the same venue next Sunday is now being considered by Caf but that is the position that was agreed by the two associations so we are now waiting to hear from Caf on the new referees’ appointments they will make.
“As Zifa would like to apologise to our valued fans and all the stakeholders for the inconvenience caused and we plead with them to return in their numbers next week and support their team.
“This development somehow brings to the fore our earlier concerns about the decision to appoint match officials from Cameroon because our understanding is that the CHAN tournament should be run by zones.
“We would also like to thank the match commissioner for the efforts he made to try and save this match. We will plead to Caf through the match Commissioner for Caf to underwrite part of the expenses for the rescheduled game by catering for the referees expenses,’’ Mashingaidze said.
Zifa, Mashingaidze also said had used US$10 000 for the air tickets for the four Cameroon referees.
Warriors coach Ian “Dibango’’ Gorowa was left with no choice but to give his players a day’s break from camp while his Chipolopolo counterpart Herve Renard was expected to fly out of Harare with some of his players who will link up with their foreign legion in France.
Zambia face Senegal in international friendly in France in Wednesday.
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