B Gary Al-Smith
It is possible to say that this is belated but the issue of having not allowed Zambia to represent Africa in the coming Confederations Cup is a serious and sad one.
Herve Renard, on Tuesday, was not being bitter when he lashed out at Caf for “being happy” at the exit of the Chipolopolo.
Following three draws, they bit the atrociously poor and dusty fields, literally, of Mbombela Stadium. They should have been preparing, now, for the gathering of the world’s best continental champions in Brazil this year, as winners of the 2012 edition.
As is the rule, Fifa requested Caf to produce a candidate for Africa. The people in Zurich took it for granted that since Zambia had won the 2012 edition, preparation was geared toward inviting the Chipolopolo over to Brazil.
How wrong they were.
Caf wrote back to them to say that was not the case.
The email from a top Caf official on June 30, 2012, to Fifa clarified that “the winners of the 2013 Afcon South Africa will be the ones to represent Caf and not the winners of the 2012 edition”.
Portions of the reply from Fifa said “As a matter of curiosity, why won’t you allow the 2012 winners to be there, at least so that we can plan accordingly and quickly? Don’t forget that all our teams for the Confederations Cup are the winners from the various continents’ 2012 tournaments.”
Caf replied, asking Fifa to “kindly respect the decision of Caf, who think it is best to produce the current champions of Africa, as are the dictates of the Confederations Cup’s rules”.
Therein lies the thin line.
A question of interpretation
Caf clearly decided that the “current champions”would be the country that wins Afcon 2013.
It makes sense but, within Caf, there was always the possibility of making sure that the Chipolopolo would be Africa’s reps, rather than the winners of this year’s edition.
That would only have happened if the people in power wanted it to be so. They did not and Herve Renard hinted at that fact after his team was dumped out of Afcon.
“To be honest with you I think that Caf is very happy because Zambia is not going to play the Confederations Cup,” Herve Renard said after his team failed to secure the win it needed on Tuesday to reach the quarterfinals.
“Because (they think) Zambia is not sexy enough to go to the Confederations … it’s the truth.”
Imagine if Ivory Coast had won the 2012 edition, or Ghana, or Nigeria.
Caf would not even have dared to brush them off in favour of this year’s winners.
“If this would not present a problem for the 2012 winners, and the entire Caf’s ExCo is fine with this, then we will put forward the winners of 2013 as your continent’s rep,” said a Fifa email to Caf’s officials last July.
This was after Euro 2012, when Spain had been crowned back-to-back winners and the LOC of this year’s Confederations Cup needed to finalise plans for the event.
Sources within Caf say top officials of the body were split on the matter. Some wanted Zambia to be Africa’s rightful reps, while others felt that the Chipolopolo were not fashionable enough a brand and strong enough politically to present as the continent’s winners.
The question now is: what if a team like Burkina Faso wins Afcon 2013? What if Cape Verde beat Ghana in the quarters, finish off the semifinalists and roar to an outstanding triumph in Johannesburg on February 10?
Would either of these two be fashionable enough?
Could Zambia have done anything?
What Zambia could have done, was to have taken the matter forward to the Court for Arbitration for Sport. As it is, Zambia will have to wait until 2017, at least, to try and represent the continent again. Of course, that depends on whether they are capable of winning Afcon 2017, which will be held in Libya.
Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene said on Tuesday that this was the time Zambia’s players “need each other the most”.
“It’s time to encourage each other,” Mweene said. “If we despair now, who is going to play in the (World Cup) qualifiers? It’s the same players.”
Zambia may have been wronged but, like Mweene knows, politics can do a lot of things. What it cannot do, is kill the will of a determined nation.
The Copper Bullets sit atop their World Cup qualifying group ahead of Ghana, Sudan and Lesotho. Getting to Brazil in 2014 would be the best present to give Chipolopolo fans.