Zimbabwe pull out of CECAFA citing ‘security concerns’

By alex wafula
Nov 30, 2017
  • Stanley Okumbi has been retained as Harambee Stars’ assistant coach. (SNA. File Photo)

Zimbabwe who were invited as one of the two guest teams for this year’s CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup in Kenya have pulled out citing ‘security concerns’.

In a statement released on Wednesday evening, the Zimbabwean Football Association apologized to the organizers for opting out less than four days to the tournament, but said they were left with no choice.

“Following wide-ranging consultations with all stakeholders, the Zimbabwe Football Association has resolved to withdraw its commitment to participate in the 2017 CECAFA Challenge Cup due to the security risk posed by the volatile situation in the host country, Kenya,” the Federation said in its statement, posted on their official website.

“The withdrawal from such a prestigious tournament is unfortunate for us, the team, the nation and the tournament organisers, but the association had to make the complex decision in the best interest of all involved,” the statement further stated.

The latest withdrawal will see the tournament have only nine participating countries. Sudan, one of the core CECAFA members earlier said they would not be sending a team to the tournament. Eritrea and Djibouti were also not included.

However, in a quick rejoinder, CECAFA Secretary General Nicholas Musonye has laughed off the withdrawal, terming it as ‘nonsense’.

“If they don’t have money to come for the tournament, let them just say instead of giving security as a reason. What insecurity is there in Kenya? They (Zimbabwe) have more problems than us. We will not miss them even a bit and the tournament will go on without them,” an angered Musonye told Sports News Arena on Wednesday evening.

Security situation calm

The security situation in the country has been hugely calm with citizens going about their activities normally since the August 8 disputed presidential election and the follow up repeat poll on October 26.

However, Football Kenya Federation’s decision to temporarily strike out Kisumu as a possible host over security concerns might have fuelled Zimbabwe’s decision.

The Federation and the Local Organizing Committee has said it will move Group A matches initially set for Kisumu to the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos due to uncertainty of political tensions.

Kisumu is the stronghold of opposition leader Raila Odinga. Sources however intimate that the County government had assured security for teams and fans in the entire duration of the tournament.

“We are still monitoring the situation and should we feel it’s safe, then we will have some matches there. Machakos had been listed as an alternative ground same as Mumias, Kasarani and Afraha and should need arise, they will be used,” LOC boss Herbart Mwachiro further said.

Group A, involving Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, invited side Libya and Zanzibar will be staged in Machakos while Group B matches involving defending champions Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and South Sudan will be staged in Kakamega.

However, Musonye has hinted that the opening ceremony including the opening match between Kenya and Rwanda will be played at the newly refurbished Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega.

FKF and the LOC are expected to give a final stand on the venues by close of business Thursday with the fixture set to be drawn out by Friday.

Teams are expected to start arriving in the country on Thursday with Burundi being the first to touch down in the wee hours of the night while Rwanda will be arriving at 11 a.m.

Uganda will drive directly to Kakamega via the Malaba border on Saturday with their opening match scheduled for Monday.

The tournament this year will not have quarter finals. The top two teams from each group qualify directly for the semi-finals.

Okumbi now assistant coach

Meanwhile, Kenya’s Harambee Stars continued preparation in Nairobi under the tutelage of new boss Paul Put. The Belgian took charge with his predecessor Stanley Okumbi dropping down to the assistant coach’s role.

The team has been hit with three major absentees, Gor Mahia duo of Harun Shakava and Kenneth Muguna dropping out with injury while Ulinzi Stars left back Omar Mbongi left camp after suffering illness.

They have been replaced by Zoo Kericho’s Isaac Kipyegon, Thika United’s Said Tsuma and Sofapaka’s Wesley Onguso. This will be Put’s first assignment and he will have a huge burden to carry especially with the national team’s poor performances over the last four matches.

Kenya won the tournament when it was last held on home soil in 2013, under another Belgian Adel Amrouche.