Chipolopolo are perhaps going through classic male menstruation syndrome: the physical appetite and desire to win is there, but the emotional, mental and technical killer instinct to finish well and score many goals is missing, as their male hormones play havoc with their brains, eyes and feet! I hope our handsome coach, Aljoša Asanović, whom some think is Kenny Rodgers incarnate, will not soon be borrowing and singing Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye” song, as Zambians vent their anger on him and FAZ, for our humiliating exit from the African Nations Champions, at home, by clearly weak and poison free Mambas of Mozambique. I like Asanović, and I enjoy Chipolopolo’s recent display of good football on the pitch, but, like most Zambians, I want goals, victories, not perpetual stories of “just a bad day”!
For some brief moment of respite, England can pretend they are not being tortured by rising inflation, impossibly escalating prices of oil, gas, electricity and food and a looming national general strike, the first one since 1926, because millions of workers cannot afford the high cost of living. There are widespread national demands for high pay and strikes everywhere in England today. England is in the vicious grip of a pre-revolutionary moment, but the victory of the English women football team – the Lionesses -against German in the Euro 2022 on Sunday the 31st of July has briefly suspended all feelings of mass protests against their extremely mean and bankrupt Tory government. This is what football does, to a country, when victories are secured on the pitch: social upheavals and revolutions are briefly suspended, to savour the moment of victory first. Our own Copper Queens are capable of delaying the revolutions to come, if we help them secure international football victories for us!
Our football, like everything about us, suffers poverty; poverty of many things. With little or no money to buy food, many Zambians cannot pay the real cost a good quality football game would demand. We therefore have very poor footballers, football teams, especially female footballers and football teams, and accordingly, we have permanently financially struggling football leagues. Talent, skill and football intelligence we have in abundance, more than the waters which flow in the Nile River, in a good year. It is the human, material, technical and financial resources required to harness this abundant football talent, skills and intelligence we do not have. Funny, this is actually because we continue to be a colonial country 58 years after our independence. Watching the quality and richness of football on display in the Sunday FIFA Euro 2022 Women Championship played at Wembley Stadium in England, this year’s Women African Football Championships in Morocco and the men’s African Nations Championships (CHAN) qualifiers in Lusaka last Saturday sharply brought home tome, this fact, the fact of Zambia being a poor colony!
It is from our natural resources which they extract and transport into their already rich countries that Europe creates rich football players, teams, leagues and national teams, complete with hyper modern stadiums, excellent latest scientific knowledge and technologies in football, quality nutrition and some of the best coaches the game has ever produced.
Of course, the rich leagues produce millionaires of footballers. The exact opposite is our fate. All our national football players do not look forward to retirement. Meanwhile our government is happy to let us survive on the mine dumps, after our colonisers have taken the rich earth for processing and manufacture, in their countries, and thus continue to be superior to us.
Zambian local footballers suffer extremely inferior facilities, poor pay when it is available, insufficient or no government support, and generally live miserable lives. The difference with those of our players who ply their trade in richer European or Chinese football markets is clear to see.
We can change all this, and we must. It is time we took our football, one of the few things for which we all agree unite us, seriously. Zambia needs to elevate football to the serious industry it is. More about how, economically, this can be done, in articles to come.
We must avoid Chipolopolo’s fate rubbing off on our Copper Queens. Thorough preparations for the FIFA Women World Cup next year should be well underway. There will be no excuse for any player to be excluded on dubious gender identity procedures and tests. Our potential women national team players must be properly monitored, mentored, and assisted to sustain their development and readiness for the Women World Cup next year.
There is the thorny matter of pay, bonuses and other conditions. Time to prepare and motivate our players is now – the business of “bribing” players to break their legs in order to qualify “for the next round” and earn some bonuses may be useful to some players but it is unprofessional, chaotic, and in bad times when money is not available may demotivate players if lower pay and bonuses are offered players. Money matters are best settled and agreed upon well in advance.
Failure to plan, as they say, is planning to fail: any national football association that leaves important matters such as monitoring its superior footballers, arranging preparatory matches, organising the money required to handsomely compensate the players and motivate them to play at their highest level and so on, is not a serious national team. The Copper Queens players need to know well in advance what they will earn, their bonuses, and all the other facilities and perks available to them. This is basic common sense.
For both the men and women’s national teams, there is no substitute to a return to well organised and fully resourced school/community/town, district, province and national football organisation and competitions, from which to harvest national team players. This must involve all our community leaders, politicians, education institutions, civil society organisations, government, organised labour and business. Football is a social and cultural activity of great value to our children, young people and adults: it builds character and discipline as a sport, provides affordable and excellent entertainment – which is why we love it – and it unites communities and our country.
Only such a well organising national effort will lift our football up and unearth and bring out the best talent the country has. Is this too much to ask the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Arts, to champion this great cause?
As for the Copper Queens, time to avoid not being prepared for the FIFA World Cup is ebbing away; every second that passes draws us closer to the Women World Cup next year. We must see serious planning for the Women World Cup, every day! This time around there should be no funny, discriminatory, illegal gender identity mass testing of our players – our all-round poverty and low income country status are in fact already enough to disadvantage us against most of our competitors, without anyone bothering us about our hormones!
We are a football loving country. With proper advance planning, resourcing, and good management of our talented players, drawn from a vast field of players across the country, Zambia cannot be a pushover even by Germany and England. Our challenge is leadership with a vision, disciplined enough to follow their vision with a plan to achieve it, and the willingness to fight for the necessary resources the players and teams need, to participate at global level with dignity.
The Copper Queens, properly groomed and prepared, thoroughly motivated by our collective national love for them, properly incentivised by good pay and excellent bonuses made known well in advance, all injustices and injuries at bay, are capable of taking on any team in the world including a combined select side of England, German and the US; we have beaten Nigeria, and drawn 4 – 4 with China before anyway, a country with 1.4 billion people, nuclear armed, and the world’s second largest economy!
Will FAZ, Coach Mwape and his team, and the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Art do their bit and prepare thoroughly for the FIFA Women World Cup, and be transparent about the things which may, if published, not disadvantage our team? We do not want any surprises and manufactured failures, for our Copper Queens!
(Talk to me at: [email protected])