Almost 20 years after its inception, Council for Southern African Football Association’s (Cosafa) Senior Challenge Cup is yet to be incorporated into world football governing body Fifa’s calendar.
The development has resulted in clubs clinging to top players when the regional tournament is underway.
However, Cosafa chief executive officer Sue Destombes says the tournament is still relevant as it helps the region’s teams prepare for other tournaments.
Flames coach Ronny Van Geneugden, who has been denied the opportunity of featuring his stars such as Gerald Phiri Jnr, Gabadinho Mhango and Limbikani Mvaza, this week questioned the logic behind the tournament when countries cannot feature their top players.
The Belgian said he does not understand how it is possible for clubs to cling to their players for a regional tournament of Cosafa’s status.
He said: “What I have seen here I have never seen it before anywhere. I can’t believe it. This is a tournament that clubs must respect. It’s a tournament that organisers must strive to ensure the teams bring strong squads.
“Having top players is good for the profile of the tournament. I believe sponsors and the organisers would like to see stadiums filled as fans come to watch top players at the tournament. If this can’t happen, then they better make it a tournament for developmental teams.”
Cosafa was once an exciting tournament that made the southern Africa region come to a standstill as the region’s top players, including some from Europe, featured for the tourney while at their peak.
Players such as Benni McCarthy, Phil Masinga, Mark Fish, Brian Baloyi, Peter Ndlovu, Benjani Mwaruwari, Tauya Murewa, Esau Kanyenda, Patrick Mabedi and John Maduka are good examples.
But now, top players in the region shun the tournament either for personal reasons or because their clubs cannot release them, forcing countries to feature developmental sides.
But Destombes said they are working tirelessly on ensuring that the tournament is incorporated in Fifa calendar to allow players to be released mandatory.
“I think it must be borne in mind that Cosafa Cup is not played on Fifa dates and when associations request players from clubs, they are not obliged to release the players.
“It’s about the relationship with the clubs and negotiating with them if they can release the players if the clubs and leagues they are playing are off season or if their players are not in starting team. As Cosafa, we can only help in the negotiations.”
On the competition being played outside Fifa dates she said: “There simply are not enough dates for Cosafa Cup to be on Fifa calendar. Remember even the other continental tournaments such as Chan [Championship of African Nations], are not on Fifa calendar. It is only Afcon which is on Fifa calendar. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things.”
She also said Cosafa Cup is recognised by Fifa in terms of ranking and players caps.
FAM president Walter Nyamilandu said the competition’s focus is to expose up and coming players and prepare for other tournaments.
He said: “It will never fall on Fifa calendar dates. Ideally, it should be used to expose up and coming players.” n