EVERYONE is aware that early next month the Zambia Under-23 national soccer team will be taking part in the AfCON to be staged in Cairo, Egypt.
This tournament acts as qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where Zambia seeks to go for the first time in 31 years.
This Zambian team is a team with so much promise, with a lot of potential to make it to any level of competition.
This is a team built around the now midfield maestro Enock Mwepu and budding striker Patson Daka, both of whom play at Redbull Salzburg in Austria where they don’t just make up numbers, but are at the core of the team.
The duo has already tested the pinnacle of club football, the UEFA Champions League, facing the likes of defending champions Liverpool and doing extremely well for that matter.
Then there is Fashion Sakala and Emmanuel Banda based in Belgium plus a couple more of these youngsters playing at home and around the world.
Clearly this is a team carrying so many hopes, the nation’s hopes of a greater national team rests on the shoulders of these boys and given the right preparations and motivation, they can make Zambians proud like they did in Lusaka in 2017 when they lifted the AfCON and went on to reach the quarter finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea.
However, despite all that is at stake, there are serious concerns surrounding reaching the set targets in the tournament.
As we speak, there is no guarantee from government that the Under-23 will be funded to successfully participate in the tournament.
Last week, seeing that the team was entering camp to begin preparations, we started looking for answers from government over the issue of funding considering that FAZ had not gotten response on the request for funding from government.
The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Sport, Joel Kapembwa told me that “we have financial constraints” and therefore could not make commitments to funding the team’s programme leading up to the tournament.
In fact, I sensed more danger; the PS indicated that FAZ has money it can use to finance the tournament and I wondered where broke FAZ can get money to adequately prepare a team to go to Egypt, reach the last three to qualify to the Olympics.
Again, I asked myself; “does government really want the team to travel to Egypt or not?”
I sent a text to the sports minister Emmanuel Mulenga on this issue but the minister referred me to the director of sports for details.
Well, by hierarchy, the PS is senior to the director of sports and I thought our able director couldn’t contradict her boss.
Later in the week, I read in one of the daily newspapers that the minister was saying that funding of the U-23 national team was still under review, that the ministry was still making consultations. Eh!
The U-23 having qualified to the tournament will be representing the government of the Republic of Zambia and therefore becomes a government baby under the supervision of FAZ, the principal custodian of Zambian football.
This is the reason government gets ‘mad’ with FAZ when teams fail to qualify or when football goes wrong.
It therefore goes without saying that in the same way government gets upset when things go wrong, it must come in handy when it’s time to act comes knocking.
I know minister Mulenga knows in his heart of hearts that money for the boys ought to be found somewhere. It is actually there in the treasury because failure to fund the trip will be not only embarrassing for the country but also devastating to the players who fought so hard to be where they are.
The tone from government is dampening the spirits of these gallant boys, especially that the statements from the minister and his lieutenants in the ministry are conflicting.
Time is running out, it’s just four weeks remaining before the tournament kicks off in Egypt, we need a well-prepared team that will make the taxpayer proud.
Let government not be the one frustrating the hopes of these young players, the future Chipolopolo. We need a solution fast! Or must His Excellency the President intervene?
By the way, congratulations Shepolopolo for making it to the next round, your maiden Olympic dream is still very much alive.
Kudos coach Bruce Mwape and company.