Steve MenaryComment

ZANZIBAR: SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE

Steve MenaryComment

Steve Menary reports on a footballing nation struggling for recognition. 

Defeat in the quarter-finals of the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) Cup leaves most of Zanzibar’s footballers with little to look forward to over the rest of this season. 

Zanzibar qualified for the quarter-finals as the best third-placed teams in group B after losing 2-1 to Uganda, drawing 0-0 with Burundi and crushing Somalia 3-0. The Zanzibaris were drawing 1-1 with Rwanda in the quarter-finals until a goal two minutes from time by Meddie Kagere ended their CECAFA hopes.

The handful of Zanzibar players in the Tanzania squad will hope to be part of 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Ivory Coast, Gambia and Morocco after the Taifa Stars squeaked past Chad in the pre-qualifiers. For those Zanzibar players heading back from Tanzania across Dar es Salaam Bay their international schedule is far less certain.

The Zanzibar Football Association was formed in 1925 and the African island regularly played internationals but since joining with Tanganyika to form Tanzania half a century ago, the ZFA has been side-lined. In 1964, the Tanzania Football Federation joined FIFA and ever since the ZFA have been left feeding off whatever scraps the TFF is willing to hand out. 

The situation is so bad that in 2002, Zanzibar broke away from the TFF and tried to join FIFA. In 2005, the application failed without the world body even hearing from anyone at the ZFA in person. After being snubbed by FIFA, the ZFA re-joined the TFF but the situation continued to deteriorate.

“It’s true that they are very badly treated by the TFF,” says Stewart Hall, a former manager of Zanzibar’s national side, who returned briefly this year only to depart just before the CECAFA Cup and be replaced by the Egyptian Abdelfatah Abbas.

Hall, who also coached the youth side at Birmingham City and the St Vincent and the Grenadines national side, adds: “The main problem with the national team is the lack of sponsorship, which means they struggle to play games at any level. People have tried to attract [sponsorship] but [have] failed miserably.”

This summer, members of parliament from Zanzibar brought up the issue in Tanzania’s parliament, asking where was the ZFA’s share of the U$D 250,000 a year that the TFF receives for football in both places from the world body’s financial assistance programme.

With no sign of any resolution, the ZFA tried to join FIFA again this year. FIFA guidance on new members in 2010 produced three categories from independent countries to non-independent territories and politically sensitive cases. Zanzibar was categorised as a non-independent country and not a priority in terms of help.

Yet again, Zanzibar were rebuffed. “As Zanzibar does not fulfil the basic condition of being a country recognized by the international community they were informed on 21 June 2011 that their request had been rejected accordingly,” explains FIFA.

“The FIFA proposal was I think led by government but there was upcoming elections in politics and in the ZFA so both parties were trying to gain popularity,” adds Hall.

For Ally Saleh, a Zanzibar-based football agent who helped draw up the second application to FIFA, the world body’s rejection smacks of double standards.

He explains: “It is very important for FIFA to understand the internal setup in Tanzania where the Union is governed by what is known as Articles of Union which recognises only 22 items specifically approved by the Constitution to be Union Matters. Sport is not one of them as such each side deals with it separately and with full autonomy.”

All this leaves Zanzibar’s players facing an iniquitous future. Zanzibar’s clubs can take part in the qualifiers for the African Champions League but these ventures are often short-lived. The five-tier club game, whose attendances have been hammered by satellite screening of the English Premier League, is low standard. For aspiring footballers in Zanzibar there is little to provide motivation. 

“The football in the Zanzibar Premier League is nothing better than semi-pro with the players getting the same salary as a waiter in one of the many beach resorts,” says Hall. “The league [was] completed without a sponsor; no-one will invest because of previous discrepancies.”

With a population of more than one million people, there are also plenty of footballers and, according to Stewart Hall, plenty of ability but to pursue a meaningful professional career involves relocating to Tanzania and that is not always easy.

Hall adds: “There is talent in the islands, the boys learn their football on beaches and awful pitches and therefore are technically competent. They are Muslim and therefore do not drink, smoke or chase women and are very easy to work with.

“The salaries in Tanzania are 3-4 times more than in Zanzibar [but] there is a big brother, little brother relationship between the two countries, and the mainland people generally look down on the islanders.”

Hall was only in charge of Zanzibar for half a dozen matches before leaving to work in Tanzania’s Vodacom Premier League for title chasing Azam FC, which is owned by a company from Zanzibar. Since moving to Azam, Hall has signed eight of Zanzibar’s national side.

He explains: “The relationship between the Zanzibar players and Azam was totally formed by myself. I was looking for new players and the Zanzibaris I signed were considerably better than the players I released. It was in no way a club initiative, although the boss does look to help Zanzibari football when he has chance.”

Three of those players signed by Hall have gone on to play for Tanzania’s national side, while Abdi Khassim – another Zanzibari to make the Tanzanian side - has gone even further afield. Often known as Babi, Khassim is playing in the Vietnamese top flight for Dong Tam Long An.

Khassim is Zanzibar’s captain but the struggling VDQG Eximbank side refused to release him for the 2011 CECAFA Cup. Had the ZFA been in FIFA, like all the other sides in the CECAFA Cup, then Zanzibar might have had some leverage. Instead, like their footballers they are left to swim against the tide.

Steve is the author of Outcasts! The Lands that FIFA Forgot

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