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Say no to 22-team league

THE proposal by some relegated teams to have a 22-team league is simply laughable.
After the premier league and national division one clubs met last weekend to chart the way forward for next season under the new normal, some clubs proposed that the just ended league should not have had relegation, but that promotions from the national division one league should have been effected, which would increase the number of premier league teams to 22. Surely, I have struggled with this kind of reasoning because it simply doesn’t make sense.
The relegated teams are Mufulira Wanderers, Kansanshi Dynamos, Kabwe Youth Soccer Academy, and Nakambala Leopards. The league ended prematurely because of a natural occurrence, the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the league resumed, government took over testing of all teams for COVID-19. But it did not help much because the country failed to match testing with the swirling number of COVID cases. So, two games within the restart, government asked FAZ to close the league due to lack of testing kit. This meant that for as long as testing was in the hands of government, testing at ‘football speed’ was impossible and the league was going to go on and on…. Ending the league at week 27 rather than week 34 was a very painful but necessary decision for all stakeholders.
If FAZ had defied the directive to end the league and continue with the chaotic testing that we witnessed and, God forbid, a player died of COVID-19, who was going to be blamed? But the point is; if you played 80 per cent of games and you are still at the bottom at week 27, how can you claim that you could have survived with the remaining 20 per cent of games?
Realistically, Zesco United, Zanaco and Power Dynamos would have a legitimate claim if they complained because they were so close in the chase for CAF qualification. But they accepted the decision to end the league prematurely because it was no one’s fault.

For the relegated ones, it’s time ‘Mighty’ Mufulira Wanderers did self-introspection to know why they have become a Cinderella club that now plays one season in the premier league, the next season back to division one. Wanderers must change course if they have to turn the fortunes around, especially that now Mopani Copper Mines has halved the sponsorship. Otherwise, this season is over and Wanderers are relegated; they must fight to return stronger next season. They must review their transfer policy, their business strategy because Mopani’s cutting of sponsorship could be a signal of more changes to come. And in this era of club licencing, the team must do more to end dependency on one sponsor and sustain itself as a business.

Clearly, there was no guarantee that after struggles on the pitch, changing coaches compounded by significantly reduced sponsorship, that ‘Maite’ was going to survive. What Wanderers should do now is to use the US$15,000 COVID relief fund to strategise for a quick return to the Super League. In fact, now you are getting K200,000 instead of the K7,000 you could have gotten for playing in the premier league. So, you can use these resources available to you, plus the TV revenues, to rethink business because you can’t have such a huge support base and fail to make business sense out of it.

For Kansanshi Dynamos, they simply acted slow to use their available resources to buy premier league quality. They went into the market quite late and hired Beston Chambeshi quite late. By the time ‘quicksilver’ was trying to put the act together, the team was swimming in troubled waters… So, keep Beston and the senior players if you can, you shall surely return this time under the Zambia Premier League.

Telling FAZ to increase the number of teams to accommodate you who failed on the pitch is unrealistic because that is a constitutional issue that can only be done by a full FAZ council. My gut feeling tells me this is an election gimmick. Because FAZ are going for elections, they must jump? No, that is blackmail and the FAZ executive will be shooting itself in the foot if they accommodate such a proposal. Look at Nakambala Leopards, if club licensing was seriously followed, the team from Mazabuka could be severely punished.

Therefore, I would like to advise the FAZ executive to instead make sure that they give full autonomy to the league next season. What clubs must start thinking about is how to formulate the board to run the new Zambia Premier League, not to increase the number of teams. Who will constitute the board from among the clubs? Who will manage the ZPL secretariat, how to increase sponsorship and the like?

Otherwise, no business will accept to sponsor a blotted league structure at a time when every business is cutting costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Football is competitive and you must effectively compete to stay top. There is no way the league size will keep changing to accommodate those that fail on the pitch because it’s election time.

In any case, there are 18 teams in Division One and 18 teams in the Premier League. How then can there be promotions from division one and no relegations from the lower division for this season? How does this work? Which sponsor would associate with such confusion?

The decision to end the league at week 27 is a COVID-19-induced decision that was never done to disadvantage anyone. If those that were in the hunt for the title and continental football have accepted it, so should everyone. COVID has no favourites, a decision had to be made because there is next season plus international engagements to plan for.

FAZ elections should not be used to weaken the league! Let’s move on!

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