World Cup – A Dream Shattered

Such was the euphoria that the tourism industry was ready to welcome several teams that would camp in Zimbabwe and visitors who were expected to commute from Zimbabwe to watch the games.

It was a dream-come true.

However, with Zimbabwe’s political bickering going on and failure to raise much needed financial assistance to re-build Zimbabwe’s shattered economy, it has recently dawned on most Zimbabweans that the hope of attracting teams or visitors for the World Cup is just but a pipe dream.

Zimbabwe had hoped England and Brazil teams would camp in Zimbabwe and fly to South Africa only for matches. 

There were even plans of building stadia in Bulawayo, Mutare and Beitbridge.

Such was the obsession with the World Cup that when hoteliers rejected, as unsustainable a proposal by FIFA to reserve 80 percent of the rooms stock in Victoria Falls without immediate payment for the showcase, they were branded as unpatriotic.

It was envisaged that an endorsement by FIFA would help in the branding of Zimbabwe as a destination.

An inter-ministerial taskforce, with 19 cabinet members, was set up to look at the spill over that could be derived from the soccer showcase.

The committee was formed to oversee the Sports Tourism and Image Communication Taskforce (STIC), an all encompassing body that recommended on areas that needed improvements for the country to be a good host.

So far only the North Korean team has expressed an interest in camping in the country for training. Even then, there has been an up-roar, especially from Matabeleland, where some political activists are protesting against the team’s plans to camp in Zimbabwe. They are saying the team’s presence in Zimbabwe will bring back bad memories of the Gukurahundi era, which saw thousands of innocent people in Matabeleland massacred by the North Korean trained 5th Brigade army, on the orders of President Robert Mugabe. 

Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Walter Mzembi, said the country was expecting to get US$200 million from the World Cup through a third of the visitors to the showcase.

Local football fans may also be disappointed to learn that the much-talked about fan parks, that are being planned by the government in selected parts of the country, to enable people to watch the games, may fail to be established.

Many fans had welcomed the idea, as it was going to give an opportunity to most people in the country who do not own television sets, to watch the international games.

But government has warned that the idea contravenes broadcasting laws of the country. The state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), which enjoys radio and television transmission monopoly, is said to have written a letter to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) warning them of the fan parks. The letter, written through Media, Information and Publicity secretary, George Charamba, warned of dire consequences for establishing mini broadcasting stations in the fan parks.

Charamba said he had told the ZTA’s CEO that ZBC was a player in broadcasting not a referee.

Football fans are now worried that this project may fail to see the light of day.

“We have been talking, talking let’s make things happen. We need things to start moving,” said a prospective fan park operator.

In addition, the fan parks require a change in municipal by-laws so that recreation zones are identified, a process which may drag.
Government has pledged US2 million for the importation of equipment for rural public view areas.

“We are in active discussion with Chinese companies to see if they can do an emergency airlifting of the equipment because it has to be manufactured before 20 May, that’s our deadline,” said Mzembi.

Government, Mzembi said, had extended its begging bowl to South Africa to assist the country in connecting it to the event. Government in February asked for R60 million from South Africa to help set up public viewing areas across the country.

“It is very difficult for us at the fiscal level to justify any substantive expenditure on World Cup 2010 because we have other bigger priorities day to day that we are chasing,” said Mzembi.

There had been concern that South Africa was monopolizing the US$ 1 billion it was given by FIFA to prepare for the event but Mzembi said the criticism was mis-directed.

Shingi Munyeza, African Sun Limited CEO, told analysts in January that there had been so much talk and less action on the World Cup in South Africa and without proper planning the event could turn out to be just a sporting rather than a tourism event.

According to FIFA’s rotational system, the next World Cup would next be held on African soil in 2034.