Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
BULAWAYO Premiership clubs have hailed the local authority for granting them free use of local stadia for their opening five matches when the season resumes after the Covid-19 lockdown.
Councillors unanimously agreed to cushion the four Premiership clubs by helping them recover from the Covid-19 effects at a full council meeting held on Wednesday.
Bulawayo has four Premiership clubs, Highlanders, Chicken Inn, Bulawayo Chiefs and Bulawayo City.
Ward 27 councillor Siboniso Khumalo’s motion to grant clubs free use of Barbourfields and Luveve Stadiums for their opening five games instead of two matches that the local authority’s finance committee had recommended was seconded, making it a resolution at a full council held on Wednesday.
Khumalo said they will also lobby for a possible relief for First Division teams, whose ground rentals are far less than that paid by premiership sides.
In May Highlanders wrote to the local authority requesting financial and material resources amid the crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Highlanders lost their sponsor NetOne, which decided to refocus its corporate social responsibility towards fighting Covid-19.
The withdrawal immediately created a challenge in funding the basic function and sustenance of Highlanders that relies on gate takings, membership fees and player transfers.
In his letter to the council, Highlanders chief executive officer Nhlanhla Dube expressed fears that the problems brought by the loss of a sponsor might result in the collapse of the club with players and workers dumping Bosso.
The council’s finance committee chaired by Mlandu Ncube declared Highlanders as a strategic institution, whose existence had an economic multiplier effect.
It said benefits accrued to various organisations directly or indirectly from Highlanders’ existence.
“Recently, Highlanders FC distinguished itself as a responsible institution by embarking on a fundraising campaign to equip Ekusileni Hospital in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Ekusileni was one of the health facilities earmarked as an isolation centre.
“In view of the foregoing, Highlanders could not be allowed to collapse under the watch of the City Fathers. The city had a collective responsibility to intervene timeously to save such a strategic institution,” reads the report.
The chamber secretary had no objections to the finance committee’s recommendation that Bosso be allowed to play their first two home games at Barbourfields Stadium for free to assist in the club’s recovery.
“Although the assistance may not have a big impact in reducing the club’s obligation on one hand and does not appear to be a big dent on council’s finances on the other, it demonstrates council’s desire to save the club,” said the chamber secretary.
Highlanders’ chairman Kenneth Mhlophe said although they are yet to get official communication from council, it was pleasing to note that the local authority understood their plight.
“This is a first for the council to completely give free access to the clubs. As we wait for official communication, we want to applaud the City Fathers for understanding our plight,” Mhlophe said.
Chiefs benefactor Lovemore Sibanda said: “We’ve really been hit hard as we try to keep all our staff happy during this time when we are inactive. We appreciate what the local authority has done by treating us equally as Premiership clubs.”
Bulawayo City FC also welcomed the waiver.
“Contrary to some beliefs that Bulawayo City FC doesn’t pay for use of the facilities, the club pays just like any other club and we are grateful to the wisdom of the City Fathers who have decided to chip in and assist the clubs through this gesture,” said City vice-chairman Zenzo Moyo. — @ZililoR