Zimbabwe – With organised football suspended in Zimbabwe due to the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s long-suffering footballers have once again turned to “money games” to make ends meet.
On average, a club player earns 5,000 Zimbabwean dollars a month ($50 officially but $16 on the black market). The salary is less in the lower divisions.
With no international matches, these footballers have thus resorted to unsanctioned matches – deemed illegal by their own clubs – which are also prohibited under the government’s lockdown rules.
Normally, crowds would play a huge role in these cross-township football rivalries in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. Up to 5,000 spectators jostling for a glimpse of the end-to-end action from the pitchside could be seen at a high-profile game.
However, since the coronavirus outbreak, big crowds would attract unwanted attention from the army and police officers.
As a result, these matches now start as early as 8am local time (06:00 GMT) to avoid high spectator numbers.
‘Broke and struggling’
“Money games” have been played in Zimbabwe for years where, during the off-season, some of the country’s best top-flight league players appear in a desperate attempt to supplement their meagre income.
But now, the matches are witnessing a surge in high-profile players who are left out of pocket with sanctioned football currently suspended and most top-flight clubs failing to pay players during the forced break.
These players put themselves at risk of career-threatening injuries given the substandard pitches they play these matches on.
“Our team went quiet on us since the lockdown started in March 2020 and we haven’t been paid a cent,” Malvern Chiketa, who plays for second-tier club Eiffel Flats, told Al Jazeera.
“I play these money games to earn some money and also to keep fit for next season.”
An Eiffel Flats official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the club was “broke and struggling” and unable to pay salaries.
Midfielder Tendai Huwa, whose contract with top-flight club Triangle FC expired in December 2019 and was not renewed due to the uncertainty, featured in one of the games.
“I’m stone broke,” Huwa told Al Jazeera. “I was unable to buy my family any groceries for Christmas so I have to play here. If we don’t play football, we don’t get paid.”