COSAFA President Dr Phillip Chiyangwa has praised the role of the COSAFA Castle Cup in developing football in the Southern African region and believes the competition will go from strength to strength in the coming years.
Dr Chiyangwa also thanked long-time sponsors Castle Lager for their support, and believes the region would be considerably poorer without the 14-team tournament, which this year will be staged in South Africa’s North West province from June 25-July 9.
The COSAFA Castle Cup is celebrating 20 years of developing footballers in the region, having first been staged in 1997, with the opening match seeing Malawi defeat Botswana 4-1 in Gaborone.
“This competition started 20 years ago and it is still here today, growing bigger and bigger,” Dr Chiyangwa said. “It is our flagship tournament and we are delighted that our partners Castle Lager have been sponsors for 15 of those years.
“Castle Lager has truly stood the test of time in terms of football development in the Southern African region.”
The referee in that opening fixture was Zimbabwean Felix Tangawarima, who is now Head of the COSAFA Referees Committee, a sign of how the competition has served to elevate match officials and administrators as well.
“The tournament is not just about developing players, but match officials too. My countryman Felix Tangawarima can attest to that,” Dr Chiyangwa said. “The region has recently seen many top referees receive crucial appointments for the continental championships and World Cup qualifiers.
“Right now from COSAFA we have three of our own, Janny Sikazwe from Zambia, South African Zakhele Siwela and Jerson dos Santos from Angola who are currently in South Korea [at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup that starts this weekend].
Sikazwe officiated in the COSAFA Castle Cup final in 2016 and also went to the FIFA Club World Cup in December.
But Dr Chiyangwa also highlights the impact the COSAFA Castle Cup has had on the national teams, providing them with quality competitive action outside of African Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers, a time when they might be otherwise inactive.
“It also should be acknowledged that the Zambian side that won the African Nations Cup in 2012 was developed in part through the COSAFA Castle Cup,” Dr Chiyangwa said.
“The COSAFA Castle Cup is a vital tournament in the region that fulfils its mandate to its members in that it provides competitive football at the highest organisational level. It provides the perfect preparation for nations for CAF and FIFA qualifiers, and gives a platform for many fringe players to shine.
Dr Chiyangwa acknowledges that football is also business and without sponsorship, development in the region becomes tougher. He believes that COSAFA’s tournaments, which also include Under-17 and Under-20 championships for men, and women’s senior and Under-20 tournaments, are the perfect platform for corporates to align.
“The COSAFA Castle Cup and all of our tournaments provide the ideal platform for sponsors to align their products to. They can offer a big boost to brands through the marketing exposure achieved through television and other media.”
Dr Chiyangwa believes that the 2017 COSAFA Castle Cup can be the best yet, on and off the pitch.
“It has been going very well down the years, but we intend to make it much more exciting in the future, starting from this year!”