SO violence and hooliganism wreaked havoc during Zimbabwe’s premium top flight football fixture — a league match pitting Dynamos and Highlanders at Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo last Sunday.
For the umpteenth time, that showdown between the country’s biggest clubs did not last the distance.
The game, which naturally and expectedly attracted a near capacity crowd at Barbourfields and had possibly millions more watching on ZTN Prime, was abandoned after just 38 minutes of action.
In the aftermath of the orgy of violence that engulfed Barbourfields, the incidents at the stadium have been major talking points in football circles and beyond.
Given that Highlanders hooligans led the way in the violence, the club has borne the brunt of the condemnation for the behaviour of their fans.
As has happened on several occasions over the decades, Highlanders are likely to be fined by the Premier Soccer League Disciplinary Committee and also possibly forfeit the game on a 3-0 score line.
However, the recurrence of crowd trouble whenever these two teams meet has shown that the penalty of a fine and loss of points has not been deterrent enough.
This then calls for all progressive Zimbabweans to come together and assist ZIFA, PSL and even Sports and Recreation Commission authorities with finding lasting solutions to the acts of hooliganism in football.
The first port of call is to understand and acknowledge that football fandom will always be part of the fabric of this crazy sport, which the late great Pele thought of as the world’s most beautiful game.
That fandom has to be controlled through use of alert security details and marshals who exercise impartiality in the discharge of their crowd control duties at various matches.
Refreshingly, the Zimbabwe Republic Police have this time shown an even greater commitment to helping weed out the hooligan elements by arresting and naming the culprits who will be arraigned before the courts to face the music for their actions.
ZIFA and PSL could also going forward improve on the manner in which they gather intelligence ahead of big matches and even use social media to sniff out fan sentiments ahead of games and prepare for any eventualities.
Dynamos were the home team away from their traditional home in Harare and there would be need to explore whether they deployed adequate security in and outside the stadium, which security could have nabbed potential trouble makers, some of whom smuggled weapons into Barbourfields.
Zimbabwean football authorities should also now move away from the regular issuance of statements of condemnation that always follow such incidents as those which marred the Dynamos against Highlanders match.
There is now more than ever, a need for authorities to engage with their counterparts in South Africa, Egypt or the Democratic Republic of Congo and get an understanding of what it is they did to turn their big derbies into incident-free games.
For instance, how did Safa and the SA Premier league authorities turn the famous Soweto derby between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs into a huge global spectacle that is trouble free.
The Egyptians have also found a way to make the Cairo derby between Zamalek and Al Ahly a trouble-free spectacle.
We believe that if FNB Soccer City can be filled to capacity with the 94 000 seater stadium being sold out two days before the actual game, it can also be done at Barbourfields, Rufaro or the National Sports Stadium.
Pre-sales also help to avoid agitation and trouble at the turnstiles and club marshals should be trained to co-exist and show the rest of the fans that football is just but a sport to be enjoyed by anyone without fear for their lives.
A holistic approach which goes beyond just fining the clubs is needed and Zimbabwe will not need to reinvent the wheel.
The country already has a CAF-trained security officer but the big question is to what extent is his expertise being used.
It is also time that surveillance cameras are installed in stadiums to help sniff out potential trouble makers.
Domestic football has it within its capacity to restore its credibility and be a place where families can spend their Saturday or Sunday afternoon after going to church in the morning.
Clubs on their part need to indulge in continuous education to their fans before and after such big games.