LAST weekend, I attended one of the best organised local events in the Luapula Expo.
I was also tasked to hand over football equipment from Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president Andrew Kamanga in his personal capacity to Luapula Province Minister Nickson Chilangwa.
The equipment which included two sets of jerseys and four footballs are meant to promote beach football in the beautiful beaches of Samfya.
As an astute businessmen and administrator, Kamanga recognised that the Luapula Expo has incredible potential to spur the development of that area.
Beach football, in particular, has potential to boost tourism in Luapula and contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product growth.
Kamanga was away in Mauritius to ensure the under-17 national team became champions of Southern Africa for the first time ever.
I was then privileged to volunteer to hand over the items on his behalf to the minister.
The expo which I attended on official duty with my employers was incredible.
Every well-meaning Zambian needed to support the Luapula Expo which was expertly executed in organisation through the able leadership of Chilangwa and the provincial administration.
The birth of beach football in Zambia is on the horizon. Places like Western Province and Siavonga, with unique beaches, should be getting ready like a nine months pregnant woman heading to the maternity ward to deliver.
Now the events in Mauritius that saw Zambia under-17 batter hosts Mauritius 3-0 to lift the crown for the first time shows that the sleeping giant – Zambian football – has awakened.
The lads, head coach Numba Mumamba and his assistants Charles Bwale and Perry Mutapa, goalkeepers coach Kalililo Kakonje and team manager Mwansa Kapyanga deserve commendation for this incredible feat.
To start with, FAZ went to the schools’ championships to pick the squad.
There was customary criticism, initially, that time was extremely limited to select a team in this manner which could then represent Zambia at the regional meet.
Undaunted, Numba and the technical bench did not offer any excuses but put their hands to the hammer and went to the grind.
The first match in Mauritius, after some slight delays to depart from Lusaka, saw the Under-17 cage their counterparts Madagascar 7-1.
The critics changed their tactics. This time, some people took to social media to accuse the Zambian boys of age-cheating.
A named former FAZ official allegedly took the extra-ordinary step of urging the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) to throw Zambia out of the competition on the basis of an unverified magazine article with an unknown author on one of the boys who was allegedly over-age.
This year, once the selection process from the provincial school’s competition was done and a few faces from those eligible outside of the schools were added, the boys were subjected to magnetic resonance imaging tests at the University Teaching Hospital from Friday July 14 to the early hours of July 16.
The scans were supervised by Confederation of African Football (CAF) authorised doctor, the 2012 Chipolopolo Africa Cup winning team doctor Joseph Kabungo.
The tests were conducted according to set guidelines by FIFA and CAF for age determination.
Only three boys were found to be ineligible from a list of 26. The three were dropped.
Dr Kabungo, who is also a FIFA medical committee, CAF medical committee member, FIFA medical instructor as well as a CAF and FIFA doping control officer did his reports with full collaboration of the CAF medical office.
These then were submitted to CAF.
That’s how stringent the process to pick the Zambia under-17 team was.
The final list for the team to represent Zambia in Mauritius was published in the newspapers and on social media.
For anybody who is patriotic, that could have been the time to raise alarm bells for possible age-cheating allegations.
It was, therefore, disheartening to note that some Zambians were in the fore-front pushing COSAFA to disqualify this country after an emphatic victory over Madagascar.
COSAFA, to protect the integrity of the competition, opened investigations after countries like South Africa and Madagascar picked up the matter.
The investigations did not find Zambia wanting.
Therefore, we can celebrate the capture of the under-17 COSAFA Cup crown with a clean conscience.
The foundation for our football is now very solid. The likes of Lameck Banda, Martin Njobvu, Kingsley Hakwiya, Prince Mumba, Victor Kasokola, Niza Simutenda, goalkeeper Emmanuel Mpasi and company need to be nurtured carefully. They are the bedrock of future football success in Zambia.
The sleeping giant is wide awake. Since, March 19, when the Kamanga-led FAZ was ushered into office, the fortunes in Zambian football have turned upwards.
For the record, at under-20 level, Zambia scooped the under-20 Africa Cup of Nations for the first time.
Beston Chambeshi’s boys then made the Under-20 World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
In December 2016, the under-20 won the COSAFA Championship.
The senior team has wobbled. But Wedson Nyirenda’s charges reached the COSAFA Senior Challenge final for the first time since 2013.
The senior side is on the cusp of qualification to the African Nations Championship with the last round remaining against South Africa.
And preparations are already in top gear for that final round of qualifiers.
The Wally Antelopes of Ethiopia are due at the refurbished Woodlands Stadium this weekend for an international friendly.
If all Zambians pull in one direction, to borrow from United States of America President Donald Trump’s parlance: “We can make Zambian football great again”
The signs are that our football, with support from stakeholders, is headed on the right path.
Well, let me go back to dreams of Zambia one day emerging as champions in beach football starting in Samfya.
The giant in Luapula is awake too after the Expo.