Zambia were victorious in the 2012 AFCON championship. But after a string of poor games, will a new president of the football association improve their performance?
When Zambia won the 2012 AFCON championship in Libreville, Gabon, it was a watershed moment for a country that had lost its entire squad to an airplane disaster 19 years earlier. The tragedy had occurred only a few miles from the venue. But that night, many heroes emerged, including team captain, Christopher Katongo and their slick-haired coach, Hervé Renard. However, one man behind the scenes was also widely lauded for his part in the re-emergence of Zambian football: Kalusha Bwalya.
He scored a famous hat-trick in the 4-0 thrashing of Italy at the 1988 Olympic Games.
Bwalya is a legend in Zambian football. He graced the left wing for the Chipolopolo with speed and creativity in his heyday, and enjoyed an illustrious career spanning over twenty years. Since hanging up his boots, he has been actively involved in football administration, and was the president of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ), until his ousting at the election conducted in March 2016. The elections – where there was a fair bit of mud-slinging – saw Andrew Kamanga emerge as FAZ’s new president, winning by 163 votes to 156.
Kalusha’s exploits as a player will never be forgotten by Zambians. In addition to being named the 1988 African footballer of the year, he scored a famous hat-trick in the 4-0 thrashing of Italy at the 1988 Olympic Games, making him as one of Zambia’s favourite sons. Although his administrative tenure delivered the long desired AFCON trophy in 2012, it also saw the game mired with corruption allegations. It was reported that he received a bribe in exchange for votes at the 2011 FIFA congress.
Investigations were conducted to ascertain the accuracy of this by Zambia’s anti-corruption commission; however, these have proved inconclusive, despite Kalusha claiming he had received the payment as a debt. Whether this was a debt that was meant to be paid back, we’ll never know.
They have since fallen in FIFA’s rankings, from 34th after AFCON 2012, to 78th in the most recent list
Much to the disenchantment of the country’s football faithful, the performances of the Chipolopolo since 2012 have slipped and exposed the deficiencies in the administrative leadership of its football house. Yes, the corruption allegations have been an unwanted distraction, however, the team has also struggled on the pitch to attain the same level of performance that earned them the AFCON trophy. As a result, they have since fallen in FIFA’s rankings, from 34th after AFCON 2012, to 78th in the most recent list. With two qualifying games to go, they currently lie in third place in the race for AFCON 2017, behind Congo and Guinea Bissau.
In the aftermath of his victory, Kamanga stated that his administration would not practice retribution. In his words, ‘It will not use this victory to turn our heroes into villains. But it will uphold and promote the FAZ constitution and FIFA regulations and most of all respect the law of the land, Zambia.’ This is admirable from the man who has spent the majority of his life running companies, most notably the managing director of two prominent utility companies in Zambia. However, once the honeymoon period is over, will he be able to implement the change that was the bedrock of his campaign for presidency?
It is often said that football should be left alone to be run by those who have lived and breathed the game.
It is often said that football should be left alone to be run by those who have lived and breathed the game. But could Andrew Kamanga of Zambia be a beacon of light to show that football on the African continent could be run effectively and cleanly by those without a strong footballing background? Or will it be a case of pouring new wine into an old wine skin? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, the elections have shown that change is possible if one seeks it hard enough.