Zimbabwe’s tourism minister has revealed an ambitious plan for his country to host the 2034 Fifa football word cup and has pledged to raise the issue in cabinet.
Walter Mzembi revealed his “dream” at the conclusion of the tournament in Brazil last week, adding that Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, had encouraged him in his plans.
“It was Sepp Blatter who sparked my dream,” he told The Telegraph. “I met him when he came to Zimbabwe in 2011, and he said, yes, you should have a dream, a vision for Zimbabwe, and the region. In a lighter moment he said that he hoped one day there would be an interplanetary World Cup.”
Mr Mzembi said Zimbabwe was “changing and rebranding” and would be “prosperous” within a few years. Roads would be rebuilt, Harare International Airport would once again buzz with foreign airlines, and the country’s massive foreign debt would be paid off, he said. “If Zimbabwe was going to remain as it is now, I might as well dig my grave,” he added.
Mr Mzembi suggested that Zimbabwe could share the hosting with neighbouring countries. “For about 40 per cent of games, we would use South Africa’s World Cup 2010 stadiums, which are now underused. I have spoken about this to my colleague in Namibia. Botswana would be involved and Zambia and Mozambique,” he said. “All these countries have stadiums within a 90-minute flight from Harare.”
Zimbabwe’s national team, The Warriors, have never qualified to play in a world cup match, and the country’s football association has been in turmoil for several years over allegations that it was complicit in fixing games involving its teams in Asia.
The country jointly hosted the Cricket World Cup in 2003 but lost the rights to host the Africa Cup of Nations in 2000 due to inadequate preparations.
Brazil spent an estimated $14 billion hosting the most recent Soccer World Cup and it is not clear how Zimbabwe would raise the money to do the same.
The country’s economy remains in the doldrums after land seizures and disastrous fiscal policy decisions by the ruling party sparked hyperinflation and a collapse in its crucial agricultural sector. It is also the subject of economic sanctions by the US and EU.
As a result, Mr Mzembi’s suggestion has brought ridicule from some quarters and one interviewer even questioned what the minister had been “smoking”.
“As Mzembi dreams, he must remember the many hapless primary school kids in all remote parts of Zimbabwe who learn in mud houses with no toilets and the very basics like writing books and pens,” a columnist in a Harare daily newspaper wrote of the idea.
A member of parliament for President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party for 10 years, Mr Mzembi pointed to the country’s successful hosting of the UN World Tourism Organisation summit in Victoria Falls last year, and its forthcoming hosting of the a regional summit of tourism ministers.
“The best man is the man who plants a tree under whose shade he might never sit,” he told the state-run Herald newspaper. “By 2034 I will be 70 years old myself and will certainly not be the Minister of Tourism but that vision I am planting today will benefit generations to come.
“In fact, half the players that will represent Zimbabwe in that World Cup are not yet born or are being born. Others are still crawling. All these huge trees under whose shade you sit today were planted by someone who is long gone. Some visionary planted the trees.”
Mr Mzembi, whose party won a fifth term in office last year amid claims of vote rigging and intimidation, dismissed the suggestion that southern Africa had already had its turn, through South Africa’s hosting of the tournament in 2010.
“I am sure you would not want to put it to North Africa at this stage,” he said. “Nobody would look at it notwithstanding the fact that we are brothers but southern Africa is a natural seller because of its peace and stability.”