Zimbabwe’s failed organisation of 2000 Afcon finals: Who was to blame?

Zimbabwe’s won the right to host the tournament for the first time in 1997, a year after neighbours South Africa had successfully hosted the 1996 edition.

The nation’s turn to host the tournament was met with excitement from all corners as this presented a chance for the Warriors to participate in the competition’s finals for the first time.

The nation had endured extreme agony for missing the previous editions on final matchdays of the qualifiers, especially, in the 1994 qualifying campaign when Zambia’s Kalusha Bwalya scored an 80th-minute equaliser to send his side to the finals.

With CAF deciding to give Zimbabwe the 2000 finals hosting rights, the dream of playing at a major football tournament was finally coming true.

ZIFA, led by Leo Mugabe, announced mega plans to kick start the preparations, while the government promised to assist the projects with financial injections.

The successful hosting of the 1995 All Africa Games gave inspiration and belief the country could do it again.

The games would be spread across four venues in different cities.

Harare had the National Sports Stadium, while Bulawayo had Barbourfields. Two more state-of-the-art stadiums, with a minimum capacity of 20,000, were set to be built in Gweru and Mutare.

However, the construction of the new venues proved to be a stumbling block after the government pulled out on financing the projects due to the declining economy.

When CAF came for inspection just a year before the games, they noticed the slow progress in the development of the stadiums.

On 8 February 1999 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the CAF executive – then led by Issa Hayatou – decided to strip Zimbabwe of the hosting rights for non-compliance with the specifications.

The continental body then awarded the rights to Nigeria and Ghana – the first time two countries were picked to co-host the tournament.

After losing the hosting rights, there was a raging debate on the real reason behind CAF’s move and who should have taken the blame.

Some have accused the government of lacking commitment, while others believed Hayatou’s biased judgment towards the Sothern Africa region played a key role.

And what hurts more is how the nation has failed to bid again while some western African countries, who have mediocre infrastructure such as airports, roads and hotels, have controversially been awarded the hosting rights.

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