By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's expulsion from the 2018 soccer World Cup qualifiers marks a new low for a side who were once just 90 minutes away from reaching the finals.
Years of financial mismanagement, maladministration and economic malaise came back to haunt Zimbabwe on Thursday when world body FIFA expelled them from the qualifiers for the finals in Russia for repeatedly failing to pay an outstanding debt.
The Zimbabwe Football Association have been punished for constantly missing deadlines to settle an unpaid debt to Brazilian coach Jose Claudinei Georgini, better known as Valinhos.
He was owed the balance of his contract after being dismissed in 2008 and after he took his case to FIFA, Zimbabwe have been sanctioned by the disciplinary committee. Soccer has been in dire financial straits for years in the southern African country which owes over $4.0 million to creditors, according to reports made to its general meeting last month. "We are in a financial quagmire, we are in trouble. It is a microcosm of what’s happening in the economy as a whole," Zimbabwe FA spokesman Xolisani Gwesela told the BBC.
Last week ZIFA auctioned off equipment from a FIFA-funded training center in the capital Harare to try and pay some of the debt and also staved off the auctioning of a second facility in Bulawayo after agreeing a payment plan with CBZ Bank. ZIFA offices have regularly been visited by the court Sheriff to attach assets to pay creditors. Among those suing for payment are former employees and hotels, used for team accommodation but never paid. The organization's president Cuthbert Dube has also had personal affects attached after standing as a guarantor for some of ZIFA debts, local press reports said.
Three years ago ZIFA general secretary Jonathan Mashingaidze had to work out of an empty office when the Sheriff carted away all his furniture, including photocopier machines. Cars and buses have also been sold to affray expenses.
LOSING OUT It is a far cry from the 1994 qualifiers when Zimbabwe eliminated Egypt in a play-off in France and were level with Cameroon going into the last game of the preliminaries before losing out on a spot at the World Cup in the United States.
Their team included the English-based Peter Ndlovu, Galatasaray midfielder Norman Mapeza and veteran goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar. Zimbabwe were awarded the hosting of the 2000 African Nations Cup but were stripped when repeated inspection visits by the Confederation of African Football found none of the promised construction work had been started.
A CAF official said Zimbabwe just moved the same bulldozer from one proposed stadium site to the next to "make it look as if there was something happening". They have lurched from crisis to crisis since, mostly financial, but in 2012, after several years of investigation, 13 players and officials were banned for life for match fixing.
A further 69 were also suspended for shorter periods for their part in fixing friendly internationals that Zimbabwe played in Asia where games were manipulated under the instruction of a Singapore-based betting syndicate.
These bans have not yet been extended worldwide by FIFA, whose investigation into the ‘Asiagate’ affair has stalled recently.
(Editing by Mike Collett)