Coventry, Kamambo in bare knuckle fight

Suspended Zifa board member, Felton Kamambo

SUSPENDED Zifa board members have accused Sports minister Kirsty Coventry of lying under oath, following her recent claims in Parliament that she stepped in and fired them after they failed to account for US$2 million sourced from government.

Coventry last week said her ministry would not request Fifa to lift its ban on Zimbabwe after the country was suspended by Fifa last year over government’s meddling in football matters. Fifa cracked the whip after the Sports  and Recreation Commission (SRC) dissolved the Zifa board led by Felton Kamambo.

Football stakeholders have been pressurising Coventry and the SRC to reinstate Kamambo and his team as demanded by Fifa for the country’s suspension from international football to be lifted.

Coventry, however, last week quashed any lingering hopes of her reinstating the fired board members when she told Parliament that Kamambo’s board will never return because they abused US$2 million from Treasury.

She also said three of the five suspended board members were being investigated by the police on allegations of abusing female referees.

The swimming legend then said: “We don’t want Fifa to lift the suspension,” because the SRC is still “cleaning football”. Her comments have torched a storm within the footballing fraternity.

Kamambo and his three other suspended board members have responded to Coventry’s remarks which they said were false.

The four suspended members: Kamambo, Philemon Machana, Bryton Malandule and Stanley Chapeta, together with former Zifa secretary-general Joseph Mamutse, addressed a Press conference in Harare yesterday challenging Coventry to substantiate her claims.

They have already, through their lawyers, served the minister with a letter of demand asking her to retract her statements and offer a public apology.

Failure to do so, the suspended board members have threatened to sue her.

A formal letter has also been written to the Speaker of Parliament “on the contemptuously false conveyed information to the august House through a sworn Honourable member”.

“We note with concern endless inaccurate, misleading, patently false, unsubstantiated and outright defamatory utterances recently made in Parliament on March 29, 2023, by Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister Kirsty Coventry during her question- and- answer session,” said Machana who read a statement on behalf of the suspended Zifa board members.

“This is not the first time the minister has been quoted publicly making such malicious and damaging utterances as she once issued through a Press statement in 2022, where she alleged that the suspended Zifa board members were sex predators that were abusing innocent young women. We have all along restrained ourselves from responding to such baseless accusations out of our deep respect that we have to the minister in her individual capacity, her ministerial office and more importantly that of the appointing authority. Sad to say the unprovoked attacks continue unabated.”

They said it was false that they failed to account for the US$2 million given to them by government.  “No such money was ever given to Zifa during the three years we were in office. Zifa only received US$53 000 from government in 2019 and such was fully acquitted. SRC also confirmed the same through their forensic auditors on Zifa affairs that only $85 800 was paid to Zifa by government and that all such was fully acquitted. The minister, therefore, misrepresented to Parliament, the entire country and rest of the world that government gave Zifa through her ministry a whooping US$2 million which has not been acquitted to this day and justified the Zifa board suspension on that false narrative.

“We challenge those who are accusing us to lay bare evidence of such. It cannot be difficult to show that indeed Zifa were given US$2 million if it ever existed. We are now tempted to believe that indeed US$2 million may have been released for football by Treasury but such may have been misappropriated by our accusers who are now using our good names to acquit for what they themselves have used. We call upon law enforcement authorities to investigate where this US$2 million went to and be shown evidentiary proof for the same.”

The former board members said Coventry was also bluffing when she told fellow parliamentarians that the group was currently under investigation for sexual harassment of female referees.

“This is also utterly false and the minister (Coventry) knows this. The only one person found on the wrong side of ethics and not sexual harassment was a referees committee official and not a Zifa board member as falsely alleged by the minister and to this day no Zifa board member has been found guilty or is to the best of our knowledge undergoing disciplinary processes with Fifa.”

It has also since emerged that while Coventry and the SRC insist on not reinstating Kamambo’s board her office and the sports regulator have made numerous unsuccessful pleas to the world football governing body to reinstate Zimbabwe. An SRC official confirmed over the weekend that they were in contact with Fifa.

“In fact, they are secretly making numerous but failed requests for reinstatement to Fifa with the latest one being on March 26, 2023 through a virtual meeting with Fifa they had requested,” the source said.

The source added: “The honourable minister chose again to mislead Parliament by claiming she was not yet interested in Zifa reinstatement until she and SRC are satisfied of Zifa's readiness. The minister falsely misled Parliament knowing fully well that two days before her utterances in Parliament, they had actually attempted through the SRC and failed to convince Fifa to change their conditions and decision on Zimbabwe. The other such attempts were made after the draft forensic audit and another after the final forensic audit and in all those instances including the virtual meeting they requested and were granted by Fifa on March 27,  2023. Fifa informed them that the only way for Zifa reinstatement was to meet conditions set by Fifa in February 2022 when Zimbabwe was suspended and that all these other efforts were a waste of time and resources. Instead of the minister telling Parliament the truth, she cleverly and falsely made the now unpopular remark that she and SRC were not seeking or interested in Fifa reinstatement clearly out of fear that if she told the public the truth that Fifa keeps rejecting their so-called numerous roadmaps for lack of meeting their set conditions in Fifa 2022 letter of suspension.”

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