Hemedi: Why CECAFA has never seen the best of Zanzibar
Jacob Icia in Kampala
Zanzibar head coach Suleiman ‘Morocco’ Hemedi has regretted the exit of the 2017 finalists from the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup at the group stage, saying lack of competitions for the team has pulled them back.
On Saturday, Kenya beat Zanzibar 1-0 to end their journey in the ongoing competition in Kampala, Uganda.
Zanzibar, is not a member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), thus can only play in the zonal competition under the CECAFA umbrella.
Thus, the players can only play together for the national team once in a year, during the Senior Challenge which has sometimes been skipped due to logistical challenges.
“I’m not ashamed but I feel we are a team that can do better, far much better. We have given the teams we have played a run for their money, teams that are playing every time in CAF, FIFA and Olympics competitions. We last played together in 2017 when the competition was held in Kenya. Sometimes my heart bleeds for this team,” mourned Morocco.
The coach says his biggest heartbreak in the history of Zanzibar’s football was when CAF omitted Zanzibar’s membership from the continental football governing body, just a year after her inclusion.
“I cried when that announcement was made. We were still reveling in the membership and many plans were underway to build our team and league within CAF . Many footballers in the country may never reach the heights they should have hit just because that decision was made,” lamented Morocco.
During the CAF March 2017 congress, Zanzibar was nominated and voted in as a member federation of CAF just before the election of current president Ahmad Ahmad. However, during a CAF football symposium held in Morocco, Zanzibar was stripped of the membership, halting their journey to be a member of FIFA.
“I don’t want to say anything about this development. It could be political to some extent and I’m not a politician. Tanzania and Zanzibar have better politicians…” a Zanzibari football administrator who was in Morocco when the decision was made and sought anonymity, said back then.
In this year’s CECAFA tournament, Zanzibar managed just a 1-1 draw against Sudan, losing to Tanzania and Kenya by 1-0 margins in both matches.
“I hope one day we can have Zanzibar back to CAF competitions. As it is now, ways must be devised to ensure we play together more, if we have to make a bigger impact,” Morocco concluded.
CECAFA Secretary General Nicholas Musonye lauded Zanzibar’s team spirit, saying their membership in CAF is a matter beyond the zonal football body.
“I’m happy with the show by Zanzibar, with all the challenges they have matched the rest of the teams in CECAFA. The issue of their CAF membership is about the Tanzanian flag, which they share. CAF and FIFA would not want to get into the politics of Tanzania because football and politics do not mix. We have however done our best to promote football in Zanzibar, ensuring the age-group teams are getting a chance to play as much as possible. Even at CAF level you see their clubs playing as corporate members,” said the veteran football administrator.
In the larger perspective, it is the Taifa Stars of Tanzania, composed of Zanzibar and Tanzania national team players that benefits most in continental and global campaigns.