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Shift of Zambian football calendar

A REALITY test awaits most stadiums across the country as the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) realigns the domestic calendar to conform to the European schedule.
Football being a global sport, Zambia has not managed to duck the wind of change that has blown over the structure and schedule of continental club tournaments.
This year, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will stage their interclub competitions – Champions League and the Confederation Cup – under a new calendar of September to May.
To this effect, the continent’s football governing body has directed all its member associations to realign their league calendars to run between August and May into the following year.
Zambia will leap to this calendar after playing a transition season that will run between January and May 2019 before setting in motion the 2019/2020 season in August.
In Zambia, the league has for many years run from March to November – this is largely because most of the venues are unplayable at the height of the rainy season.
This is about to change. Fans, players and coaches alike may need to brace themselves for a rainy day as the league will be in full swing at the peak of the rainy season.
Of the 20 top-flight teams, few can boast of having a home venue that can contain a heavy downpour on a match day – most of them have a poor drainage system and a bad turf.
Save for a few pitches, most venues in the Super Divison need a major facelift to accommodate rainwater and avoid being waterlogged when it pours.
Arthur Davies Stadium in Kitwe and Ndola’s Levy Mwanawasa Stadium are few examples of structures that have a viable drainage system while the rest leave much to be desired.
Not even the well-maintained Nkoloma Stadium turf can survive the rains.
Nkana Stadium, for example, failed to host the 2017 Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) under-20 final because it was flooded on that day.
The game was moved to Arthur Davies.
It is encouraging that the club hierarchy has moved in and are making efforts to improve the turf in Wusakile and ensure it sucks in water on a rainy day.
Following their participation in the Confederation Cup, Green Eagles made some improvements to their Independence Stadium in Choma, too.
As the league makes a giant shift, expect some teething problems like fans being discouraged from watching matches in stadiums because most stands do not have a shade to guard them from the rains.
Most stadiums, especially in Lusaka, host double-headers, thus the turf is expected to encounter some wear and tear.
Ideally in professional sport, playing in the rainy season should not be a big problem, but in Zambia, club football is still far from being considered fully professional.
Clubs have been caught unaware because for many years, they have not upgraded their infrastructure to suit the demands of modern football – it is time to learn it the hard way.
The shift may however be a blessing in disguise.
“It is a good resolution, one of the requirements for club licensing is that clubs should have good infrastructure in terms of a stadium and its facilities.
“Football is played in the rainy season in other parts of the world and there is no problem.
“As Nkana, we have done a lot in trying to meet club licensing requirements. Our secretariat is in full swing, and we have made improvements to Nkana Stadium, so we have made great strides,” Nkana president Everisto Kabila says.
Zambian teams are perennial strugglers in the CAF interclub competition.
This has been attributed to the fact that they enter the competition when they are coming from pre-season while other leagues have been in motion.
On their elimination from the Champions League by Congolese side TP Mazembe, Zesco United coach George Lwandamina remarked, “My boys are coming from a holiday.
“They were facing a team that has been playing actively in their league while our season has been on recess. You don’t expect the energy levels to be the same,” Lwandamina said.
The ground appears to have been levelled now, it remains to be seen how these changes will impact Zambia’s club football.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail sports reporter.