Long-serving FIFA development officer for Eastern and Southern Africa Ashford Mamelodi is stepping down from his post at the end of this month, calling time on an illustrious football administration career during which he grew an affection with Zimbabwe and worked tirelessly to help the national game.
The Botswana-based official widely regarded as the Godfather of Southern Africa and who has been retained as an honorary secretary of COSAFA revealed that he would be retiring from full-time football administration after spending the last 16 years working for world soccer governing body FIFA.
Mamelodi, a regular visitor to the country to assist ZIFA with development programmes, induction workshops, conflict resolutions and capacity building initiatives, told The Herald in an exclusive interview that Zimbabwe would always retain a special place in his heart.
The FIFA official, who also served as the first chief executive of the Botswana Football Association before being elected COSAFA secretary-general has spent nearly 32 years working in various administrative corridors of the game.
But Mamelodi is mostly remembered by the local football fraternity as a regular feature at ZIFA elections or special meetings to try and normalise the situation at the association, often torn apart by squabbles and which has lately been struggling with a crippling debt that ballooned over the years.
Mamelodi reckoned that ZIFA is a “sleeping giant’’ that has huge potential to become of one the strongest associations on the African continent.
The FIFA frontman in Southern Africa has never hidden his admiration of how ZIFA for all their lack of resources and seemingly endless problems have managed to ensure their national teams qualify for major tournaments such as the African Cup of Nations, African Games, the Olympics and Women African Cup of Nations.
Mamelodi, who is also a farmer in his native Botswana, said he had few regrets as he retires from full-time administration of the game and leaves after helping turn around a number of associations especially in the Goal Project era which was one of the FIFA programmes he managed in the region.
More importantly, FIFA’s presence in the development initiatives in Eastern and Southern Africa grew during his period as he oversaw the establishment of schools of excellence and infrastructure development.
“I have been in FIFA as Development Officer for Southern and part of East Africa for the last 16 years. I believe I ‘have run my race’. One needs to also recognise when it is time to move on. After my health scare in Mexico earlier this year, this reinforced the belief that maybe it is time to move on. I do not believe that I am lost to football completely and may still do some consultancy in the game.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed every single day of my stay at FIFA and believe I learnt a lot in the process. I am a different person to the one who was appointed to open and manage the Gaborone Development Office in December 2000. All my 15 clients being the Member Associations of the Gaborone DO were uniquely different.
“I have had a good relationships with MA presidents, executive committees and staff, even though in some countries (Zimbabwe included) there was a high turn-over of leaders,’’ Mamelodi said.
The veteran administrator insisted he would, however, not be completely divorced from football even after his retirement.
“No I do not believe I will be lost to football, but will perhaps play a different role in football. Leaving the game completely is not possible. I will use the Christmas break to reflect on my next move’’.
But it is ZIFA that will always remain close to his heart.
“I have found myself to be more at home in Zimbabwe than in other countries in the region. I believe in the association’s ability to transform itself into one of the leading associations on the African continent. The potential of ZIFA is simply huge, provided the challenges confronting her could be removed.
“I have made more friends in Zimbabwe than any of the other countries. Although I have sometimes been totally misunderstood by some, it remains a special country to me. I believe that ZIFA is a sleeping giant — something big waiting to happen.
“The major challenges generally include the following:
A lack of good governance.
Failure to harness the huge Human Resource base that ZIFA has.
A strategic leadership that could grow the positives in Zimbabwe football to outweigh the negatives,
Liquidation of a huge debt that came about on account of inadequately sponsored participation in international competitions.
“ZIFA’s achievements notwithstanding the challenges alluded to, is a measure of how much more the association could achieve and the heights it could reach in the event some of the challenges it has were overcome,’’ Mamelodi said.
He also offered his suggestions on what could possibly be done to help such associations like ZIFA.
“ZIFA needs a ZIFA First Strategic approach. The association needs a leadership that will make the debt liquidation a top priority; a leadership that will develop and strengthen ZIFA properties; importantly a leadership that will spare no effort in unifying the sometimes fragmented association in the process harnessing her huge Human Resource base: a leadership that will create a conducive environment for football development and the growth of her Premier League’’.
Mamelodi also gave his overview about the region.
“Although gains have been made, it is my view that a lot more still need to be done. The game still needs to work particularly on good governance as the absence of same will retard any efforts to develop the game. Not until we place the necessary emphasis on matters including grassroots and youth development will we see the full potential of football in our region. The talent is in abundance, but it is not properly nurtured and it is inadequately managed’’.
Mamelodi also chronicled the various programmes that he oversaw during his tenure.
“There was never a dull moment at FIFA as there was a continuous introduction of new development programmes away from your day to day administration and management; refereeing and coaching. We previously saw an emphasis on youth coaching and refereeing courses, grassroots programs, women’s football programmes, goalkeeper training, fitness coaching and many more.
“Futsal and Beach Soccer programmes . . . we have seen and lived through your Win in Africa with Africa (a 2010 FIFA World Cup legacy programme); Football Turf programmes. We saw and lived through the likes of Performance, Challenger and Win Win Programmes. The list is endless,’’ Mamelodi said.
Mamelodi said there were more high points than low points in his working relationship with the region.
“There were many highlights in my 16 years as FIFA Development Officer. Almost every mission I undertook was a highlight. To mention a few I would recall the following:
Seeing what was previously a maize field transform into an imposing office block, now known as Football House in Lusaka, Zambia through the FIFA Goal Project. Football Association of Zambia are now owners of a high level office space, which is revolutionary when compared with what the previously had.
The transformation of another bush in Njeru, Uganda into a good technical centre. It was the only technical centre where the 2010 Win In Africa with Africa football tournament was hosted, whilst in most other federations it is hosted in Government or privately owned facility as most MA’s did not have existing facilities to host this project. All our MA’s have had installed in their respective countries a Football Turf Surface pursuant to the Win in Africa with Africa programme.
I also recall with nostalgia when we transversed all our MA’s to run Club Management Workshops which should have been the basis of what is now referred to as Club Licensing. At all such courses we concluded with a declaration, e.g. the Harare Declaration.
Another high point was when we reviewed statutes in countries that include Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia Malawi and Botswana. I also enjoyed it when we dealt with governance-related missions during Executive Committee Inductions. I similarly enjoyed doing EXCO and GS Inductions, which included good governance.
I enjoyed the introduction and roll-out of the Grassroots Football programmes and other new development initiatives.
There were, however, some low points to that illustrious career.
“There were not too many low points. I did meet some challenges that included the following:
Poor leadership situations including where some leaders of the game who did not appreciate the importance of long-term development, but rather chased after instant gratification that came with winning matches. They did not realise that such occasions would not only be sporadic, but could also not be sustained.
Another area where I believe much more needs to be done is the area of good governance, an area where FIFA needs to do more work on. I believe that this a major setback not only for our region, but for the whole African continent and possibly beyond.
Lack of sufficient and inadequate commitment to grassroots football and youth development. There is an ingrained perception that great national teams can be development to the exclusion of well structured grassroots and youth football.’’
The 57-year-old administrator said he would continue to work with COSAFA on an advisory role.
“I am an honorary general-secretary of COSAFA. I do not think that my exit from FIFA should affect my association with COSAFA, where I continue to give advice where sought. I also assisted the region with a number of developmental activities from FIFA.
“Through the new FIFA Forward strategy, there is more money going directly to member associations. I have advised the few associations that I have worked with including on FIFA Forward the importance of a national Strategic Plan. In this way the member associations would maximally benefit from FIFA Forward, not only that but would also be able to measure its impact within a few years.