The Rufaro Stadium - The Zimbabwe "Theatre of Dreams"
Reprint of feature article in recent Turf Roots IV, 2010– Courtesy of FIFA
It is apt that a football stadium with such a rich history is named "Rufaro". The word "Rufaro" originates from the indigenous Shona language (a Zimbabwean ethnic language), which means "happiness". This proud happiness is openly displayed on the faces of the locals when enquiries are made about their new football turf stadium. FIFA funded the renovations of the Rufaro Stadium from a natural turf stadium to a football turf stadium under its Win in Africa with Africa initiative. FIFA has so far funded the construction of 52 of these football turf facilities in Africa as part of its development initiative and in line with their three core objectives to "develop the game, touch the world and build a better future". In the majority of the African countries where this type of synthetic pitch has been laid, it has given African associations an opportunity to use these football turf facilities as their national football stadiums, something they did not have in the past as most national stadiums were used for political rallies and other military parades.
The Rufaro Stadium has hosted world-famous artists such as reggae star Bob Marley, and when Diego Maradona visited this stadium he was taken aback by the overwhelming welcome he received from the football-crazy Zimbabweans. This football shrine, which is situated in the centre of Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, has a capacity of 35,000 people and is home to eight of the 16 professional football teams in Zimbabwe. The new football turf at the Rufaro Stadium was opened on 26 June 2008.
Structured interviews were held with various football stakeholders in Harare to determine the attitudes towards and their perceptions of the new football turf at the Rufaro Stadium. The stakeholders who were interviewed included football administrators, players, referees, medical doctors, managers of professional teams, Harare city council members, the media and football spectators. The Rufaro Stadium is presently the home of all "Zimbabwe Warriors" national football teams, including the national women's football team.
The political and economic situation in Zimbabwe made it virtually impossible to focus on the development of sports facilities. The football administrators who were interviewed stated that the unstable political situation and the declining economic situation had cascaded down into the organisation of sport as there were far more urgent challenges the government had to channel the resources into. One administrator commented that the laying of the new football turf at the Rufaro Stadium had been the most positive development for Zimbabwean football in many years. One positive impact is that the new football turf stadium can now generate a form of income for all of the stakeholders. The city council of Harare receives a certain percentage of the weekly gate takings as the custodians of the Rufaro Stadium, which can be used to further upgrade the football facility. The teams receive a percentage of the gate takings to be used for the development of their clubs, and the Zimbabwe Football Association earns a percentage from national team games to further develop the game among their affiliates.
An important contribution that FIFA intends to make to African football is to help all African footballers play on decent pitches. Climatic conditions in Africa, however, make it extremely difficult to sustain high-quality natural grass pitches. The climate in Zimbabwe does not allow for the sustainability of a natural grass pitch at international level. Heavy summer rain and dry winters make it difficult to maintain quality grass pitches in Zimbabwe. A case in question, in Harare, is the Independent Stadium, which had to be closed because it was difficult to maintain the grass field and too costly to renovate given the political and economic challenges the country is facing. Heavy summer rain caused flooding to the natural grass football pitches, which led to the abandonment or postponement of important league and international games. This also resulted in a backlog of fixtures and incomplete leagues. The reconstruction of the Rufaro Stadium into a football turf facility has answered many of the challenges facing Zimbabwean football such as usage, watering and maintaining the same condition of an international football pitch all year round. The drainage system at the new Rufaro Stadium makes it possible to continue with games after heavy rainfall.
When interviewed, Zimbabwean football administrators, players, referees and spectators unanimously agreed that the new Rufaro Stadium had definitely had a positive impact on all of them. They stated that the green pitch all year round had created a psychological feeling of wanting to play. This has had an impact on player development as the quality of the pitch psychologically brings out the best in players. A female supporter commented that: " ... seeing the pitch for the first time, I felt like running onto the pitch as a player."
All stakeholders, when interviewed, agreed that the general appearance of pitch now encourages people to watch more games and it has given the game of football a more professional image. The players' technique has improved and the game seems faster. One coach commented that his players had a more positive attitude when playing on the Rufaro Stadium surface. His players seemed to be enjoying the game more on the smooth football turf surface than when they played away from home on an uneven, bumpy natural grass surface.
Coaches, players and spectators all agreed that the players' technique was better on the Rufaro Stadium surface than on the natural grass pitches in Zimbabwe. Players find it easier to control and pass the ball on the football turf pitch than on the natural grass pitches. Players have complained that the natural grass pitches in Zimbabwe were hard and in most cases uneven, which makes it difficult to control and pass the ball. The referees who were interviewed from the Zimbabwe referees association commented on how well the game flowed and said that they too were happier to be part of the game at the Rufaro Stadium.
The referees further commented that the markings on the football turf pitch do not fade and are clear to both referees and players, which makes it easier to handle the game, especially when the ball is out of play. The clear markings allow the referees to see an infringement from a distance, unlike on natural grass pitches, on which the markings fade and make it difficult to judge when the ball is out of play or whether they were right in awarding a penalty when a player is fouled in the penalty area. One coach commented that the players' enhanced technique will lead to more of them receiving lucrative football contracts with foreign teams.
The new football turf at the Rufaro Stadium has led to the field being used more for youth development. Schools are encouraged to use the pitch when the professional teams are not training. Junior teams of professional clubs play games in the morning and the professional teams play in the afternoon. This has helped to fill the huge youth football development vacuum that existed before Zimbabwean football had a football turf pitch.
FREQUENCY OF USE OF THE RUFARO STADIUM
The new Rufaro Stadium was reopened on 26 June 2008 and the new home of Zimbabwean football has been put to full use. Activity on the pitch thus far has been; 4 International games; 14 CAF Club competition games; 190 Training sessions for local teams; 103 League games; 16 Cup games; 12 Friendly games. This does not include the usage by schools and youth groups that also use the football facility.
This evidence proves that the new Rufaro football turf has contributed to the development of football in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean football administrators have acknowledged that the new Rufaro Stadium has helped to instil a more professional approach to the preparation of national teams and they have alluded to the fact that more football turf facilities will be needed in other provinces in Zimbabwe to fast track the development of the game in the country. This would increase the number of people playing the game and help to take Zimbabwe back to their former football glory.
The manager of one of the top professional clubs in Zimbabwe commented:
"ZIFA (Zimbabwe Football Association) should appeal to FIFA to lay another artificial field in Zimbabwe. The new concept of artificial pitch has allowed the Dynamos to grow in terms of their fan base and football strength. Now that we are using the new Rufaro Stadium as our home field, we reached the semi-finals of the African Club Championship, which we had not done for many years. "
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