Apr 1, 2014, 1:18 PM EST
A pair of Notre Dame men’s soccer alums, Greg Klazura (’11) and Mike Rose (’12), are on a six-month internship with Grassroots Soccer in Zimbabwe and are sharing their story with us as it goes. This week, Mike talks about Greg’s hat, lacking infrastructure in Zimbabwe and the soccer culture in the region…
Hi everyone sorry about the delay here for the blog post… and by “everyone” I mean my parents and Greg’s parents.
I’m going to take the high road for the most part on my customary introductory paragraph in which I make fun of Greg. However, I would like to have everyone take a moment and look at Greg’s hat. I used to think that there couldn’t possibly be anything that could make him uglier, but unfortunately, I was wrong.
Moving on, not too much excitingly new going on here. Greg is keeping busy with the MCUTs study and daily training. I’ve been getting more involved in the management side of Bantu too, while continuing my duties as assistant coach. Also, I’m in the process of planning out Notre Dame’s trip as well as helping with the Grassroot Soccer (GRS) Board of Directors trip and both of those are kicking into high gear. It’ll be great to have the Notre Dame guys out here and will definitely be a once in a lifetime experience for all involved.
My weekend choice to attend the Bantu Juniors games (U-14, U-16, U-18) back-to-back-to-back against Highlanders FC Juniors and has given me my topic to write about this week. To be honest, I anticipated a pretty long morning in the African sun, but I ended up having a blast watching the kids play. The morning had everything from an over-competitive opposing coach to a field-storming by the local kids who had shown up to watch the game after our U-16’s scored three goals in about five minutes after trailing 2-0 at half (ended up as a 3-3 tie). The topic that I have decided to write a brief summary on is the state of Zimbabwean soccer. I would call it football instead of soccer, but know I would end up sounding pretentious to everyone that is reading this in the states, so “soccer” it is.
Also, I’m going to apologize to our female blog fans, which I’m sure there are many thousands, because there is only so much of me to go around. Also want to apologize because the following blog is only going to talk about men’s soccer. Women’s soccer isn’t talked about very often here, and the only article I saw in the paper was actually about how poor the Zimbabwean women’s National team’s conditions were in camp. Unfortunately, this is similar to how most of the culture operates. The gender gap is something that GRS is actually putting a lot of attention into with their new girls-only curriculum geared at empowering girls with knowledge about how to handle issues that arise with the nation’s gender gap that is so engrained in the culture. Just want to reemphasize my apology above and repeat that there is only so much of me to go around.
Soccer is everything here. Imagine the NFL, the NBA and MLB all rolled into one. It is almost the only sport covered by newspapers and Saturday EPL matches are what people clear out their weekends to watch. Allegiance to a certain soccer club is to many part of their identity. On an international level, any soccer fan associates with either Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea, while on a domestic level, supporting a club is a lot about supporting a community, area, or even sometimes a tribe.
Because of how engrained the sport is in Zimbabwe’s culture, it is easy to draw parallels between Zimbabwean soccer and the nation as a whole. Soccer in the country is ripe with potential, talent and promise everywhere you turn. Unfortunately, much like the country, corruption, poor planning, and lack of infrastructure or sustainable investment have made that promise for the most part unreachable. This isn’t a surprise when you think of soccer as an industry that is adversely affected by the economic crash. If there was some sort of passion to infrastructure ratio for the sport of soccer, it would rank right up there in the world game, but definitely would be joined at the top of that list by most of its neighboring countries. The good news is that Zimbabwean soccer appears to be on the upswing.
“The Warriors”, as the national team is called, made it to the semi-finals of the CAF Orange Cup of Nations tournament last month which only permits players to be rostered that are currently playing club ball in their home nation. This is the furthest they have gotten in this tournament, and in a country that has never qualified for the World Cup, continental tournaments are all the Warriors fans can look forward to. As a result of this, many players in the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League (PSL) returned as pronounced stars. A Bantu-owned midfielder, Kudakwashe Mahachi (just known as Mahachi) was actually the star of the tournament for Zimbabwe. Bantu decided to sell him to Mamelodi Sundowns of the Absa South African Premier League for a value I don’t want to disclose, but trust me, it’s a lot of money for sub-Saharan Africa. He has since been loaned back to the local giants Highlanders FC until he can be registered with Sundowns because of the timing of the sale.
Mahachi’s story is pretty indicative of the first step of the dream for most Zimbabwean, and for that matter, African players. To begin with, South Africa is the place to be if you are a player. Is the level of play higher there than the rest of Africa? Arguably, yes. Is the pay better there than the rest of Africa? That one isn’t up for debate. Going to play in South Africa means you make enough money to live a reasonably comfortable lifestyle and at the same time send home to your family. From South Africa, the next step is anywhere in Europe. If a player makes it to Europe, it really doesn’t matter where he goes, because he has made it out. It’s exactly the same as a continental brain-drain, but for soccer players. Similar to a brain-drain, as well, sometimes the players can be exploited and paid less than they should be because in most situations, they lack the leverage on European clubs. This is one of the factors that many attribute to the decline of quality in African domestic leagues. It’s tough to blame anyone for that though, seeing as it’s just how the entire market works (Actually, if you want a really good, detailed example on African talent drain, read the chapter of a book called ‘How Soccer Explains the World’ on the Nigerian forward who ends up playing in Ukraine).
Just like the economy as a whole, foreign investment is almost (there is actually some) non-existent in the soccer industry, since no foreigners, also called “oppressors” here by the government on their state radio, want to invest capital in such an unstable place. As a matter of fact, there are industries here in which non-indigenous majority ownership of companies is illegal. A minimum 51% of companies in these industries have to be owned by “indigenous” people. Also, it is federal law that non-indigenous people, even white Zimbabwean citizens, cannot own land. With laws like these in place, a lack of foreign investment in any industry, much less the soccer world, isn’t surprising. Until foreign investment is increased in Zimbabwe, eventually trickling down into the soccer world, I’m not so sure things will be changing anytime soon.
What is the first thing we would use that foreign investment for? Buying Greg a new hat, or course.
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