Petros Kausiyo Sports Reporter
ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa believes there could be a lot of gifted footballers whose talent is wasting away in the country’s prisons and spirited efforts should be made to ensure that talent is nurtured, behind bars, for a possible recruitment into the national game in the future.
The country’s football controlling body yesterday donated football equipment for the development of players in the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services countrywide.
Chiyangwa donated equipment which included adidas match balls, soccer boots, gloves and shin pads to ZPCS Commissioner-General Paradzai Zimondi who was in the company of his deputy Agrey Machingauta at a brief ceremony in Harare yesterday.
The ZIFA boss said it was imperative for ZIFA to also play their part in helping to rehabilitate those who are incarcerated at various prisons around the country.
He said he was keen to see the 46 prisons dotted around the country producing at least two football teams each and remained hopeful that some of the talented players could be identified from those behind bars and integrated into competitive clubs.
His call come on the day English League One champions Sheffield United announced they are set to re-sign striker Ched Evans from Chesterfield and the two clubs have already agreed a fee of about £500 000.
The 28-year-old last played for the Blades — one of the clubs which Zimbabwe football legend Peter Ndlovu also played for during his lengthy career in England — in 2012.
Evans was found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in 2011 and sentenced to five years in prison.
The Welsh international footballer spent two-and-a-half years in prison before his conviction was quashed on 21 April 2016 by the Court of Appeal, and a retrial was ordered.
On 14 October 2016, he was found not guilty.
That conviction was quashed and, following a re-trial last October, Evans was found not guilty.
He joined Chesterfield last summer and has scored seven goals in 29 appearances for the relegated League One side.
Chiyangwa said he was also keen to see prisons officers being actively engaged in football and playing the game at the highest level.
Just last Friday, Chiyangwa also gave equipment that was sourced from FIFA to the women’s clubs and pledged ZIFA’s financial support in a move aimed at finally kick starting the Women’s Super League that had been in limbo.
Chiyangwa also assured Zimondi of ZIFA’s support to the ZPCS endeavour to have sport and football in particular thriving at prisons around the country.
Harare Central prison has its own versions of Dynamos and CAPS United and prisoners often engage in fiery battles for the honours behind bars and Zimondi noted that such teams would be among the beneficiaries of the equipment. The ZPCS officers are also currently preparing for the SADC Games in Swaziland and will no doubt welcome the gesture by Chiyangwa to lend them support for both the prisoners and the prison officers who look after them.
“This (the donation) comes after we had discussions for quite some time I have sourced equipment — balls, soccer kits, boots that will be distributed to prisons. I am told there are 46 prisons so we are donating to each prison to help with correctional service.
“Where necessary we will increase our support especially for the prisons. It’s a program that I am prepared to put my full weight behind and we are saying apart from equipment, we can also assist the prisons with the technical personnel,’’ Chiyangwa said.
Zimondi, who revealed that they had been persistently asking the ZIFA boss for support, said the equipment would also be distributed to both men and women’s teams.
“We have been knocking on the doors of ZIFA for a long time bearing in mind that sport plays a big role in unifying people those outside and those incarcerated. So on our rehabilitation programme, sport plays an important role.
“We have quite a number of teams in prisons. We have two in Division One and one Division One female team but we have other various teams around the country and this will go a long way in assisting us in the rehabilitation.
“We also have teams that are employing prisons officers and we have seen that more officers are now playing football.
“We are also saying that when one leaves prison they can choose to join a club of their choice or even go on to start their own clubs and we thank ZIFA for the good gesture.
“Dr Chiyangwa has shown that the rehabilitation of prisoners is not just a responsibility for ZPCS alone, it is the responsibility of every Zimbabwean,” Zimondi said.
Machingauta said the Zimbabwe team was eager to impress at the SADC Games.
Other High-Profile Footballers Who Served Time In Jail
Joey Barton (Burnley FC)
In 2007, when he played for Newcastle United, he was caught on CCTV punching a man.
He served two months of a six-month sentence at Strangeways prison in Manchester.
His boss at the time, Kevin Keegan, publicly backed him.
Barton went back to Newcastle, had a spell at French club Marseille and is now back playing Premier League football with QPR.
He now plays for Burnley in the English Premiership.
Rene Higuita (Colombia)
The Colombian goalkeeper played for his country in the 1990 World Cup but, three years later, he was jailed for acting as a go-between in a kidnapping case involving an 11-year-old girl.
He missed the 1994 World Cup.
But he returned to the game after his release and his most famous moment came in 1995, when he used the ‘scorpion kick’ to make a save against Jamie Redknapp in an England friendly at Wembley.
Plymouth Argyle goalkeeper Luke McCormick was jailed for seven years and four months in October 2008 for killing two children in a crash.
The player admitted causing the deaths of Arron Peak, 10, and Ben Peak, eight, and driving with excess alcohol.
He signed for Truro City after serving around half his sentence before moving to Oxford, where he made 15 appearances. He then re-signed for his old club.
The Arsenal legend, whose entire 22-year playing career at the Gunners, served two months of a four-month sentence for drink-driving in the ‘90s but the English giant retained him as their skipper.
In 1996 he guided England to a semi-final spot in the Uefa European Football Championship. He is now coaching in Spain.