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Guthrie Zhokinyu’s world collapsed. His life was turned upside down. And his dazzling career foundered in the twists and turns of an affair that would come to be called Asiagate...

That day, 18 October 2012, calmly sitting on the team bus taking his club, Dynamos, to play a cup quarter-final against Artilleurs FC, Guthrie Zhokinyu was still a happy, cheerful, good-humoured footballer, the life and soul of the team, all the more so for always being ready to listen, always ready to help, not just because he was the vice-captain, but also, above all, because he was deeply human.

And then, when the team manager handed him a letter, the Zimbabwe international expressed his surprise at being the only one to receive an advance bonus and demanded envelopes for the whole team, because Dynamos was bound to win...

The bus exploded with laughter and applause. Guthrie savoured the moment. He was still a happy, cheerful, good-humoured footballer.

But when he started to read the letter, his face froze, his jaw tightened. The nightmare had just begun...

He read it. He reread it. He did not understand.

“We hereby inform you that you have been suspended for life from all football-related activities for your part in the match-fixing scandal in your capacity as a member of the Zimbabwe national team.”

He read it. He reread it. He turned, incredulous, dazed like a boxer knocked out on his feet, to the manager, who delivered the final blow by admitting that the Federation had ordered him to exclude him from the team, with immediate effect.

Guthrie was no longer a footballer. He was no longer happy, nor cheerful, nor good-humoured.

And he was not the only one who had received a letter of this kind. There were other players, coaches, administrators, officials... The suspensions, of many various kinds, had spread like a swarm of locusts...

“In all, 104 players and 7 coaches who took part in the Far East Asian Games between 2007 and 2010.”

Banned without a hearing

Desmond Maringwa, President of the Football Union of Zimbabwe (FUZ), knows the dossier like the back of his hand: “From our point of view what was really incredible about these sanctions was that they were imposed without the slightest semblance of a judgment, without those convicted being able to defend themselves... Banning a player like Guthrie for life, an international at the peak of his career, known for his integrity, without even giving him a hearing, is quite simply unacceptable... You cannot just ignore people’s right to a fair trial like this. So we decided to contest the sanctions against Guthrie and all the other players, members of our union, by referring the matter to FIFA.”

So Asiagate very quickly became the main subject of discussion in the football world. And the FUZ threw itself body and soul into fighting the injustice, even though it knew that the process to restore the good name of Guthrie and the others would be long and the outcome uncertain, faced with a federation that had closed ranks and was deaf to appeals...

“So much so that when FIFA asked ZIFA to backtrack and lift the ban on Guthrie, or at least not to extend it to foreign countries, our federation refused to budge, forcing us, with the help of FIFPro Division Africa, to go to the civil courts to get justice. Two years and seven months after being imposed, the lifetime suspension was cancelled. Losing two years and seven months has a huge effect on a player’s career...”

Guthrie Division Africa 640

The FUZ organises a first meeting with FIFPro Division Africa at the beginning of 2013

But it has just as huge an effect on the life of a man, an employee, deprived of the possibility of practising his profession, of earning his living. As soon as the lifetime ban became known, Guthrie’s club, Dynamos, decided to stop paying his salary and various benefits without further process of any kind and, once again, without even seeing fit to hear its vice-captain’s arguments.

“So we went back to the courts and sued the club for unfair practices. And again we won. Guthrie immediately recovered part of the amount due to him, with the balance to be settled in instalments... Dynamos is still paying him today!”

“But we couldn’t stop when things were going so well, and we decided to take the case to the Supreme Court, on behalf of Guthrie and other players, for them to be paid damages and interest, taking into account inability to work, lost opportunities in a career that is known to be short, loss of income and, of course, tarnishing of the image of these lads who were turned overnight into pariahs, cheats, crooks... We are still waiting, confidently, for judgment on our claim.”

Happy ending

FIFPro Division Africa is also supporting the proceedings initiated in Zimbabwe before the Supreme Court for judgment against the Federation in respect of the harm suffered by the players, particularly in their career development.

This is true of Guthrie, as of others. Since becoming a footballer again, Guthrie Zhokinyu has returned to the field of play. And needless to say he took part in the training camp for free players organised by the FUZ. Soon he once more became the excellent player he used to be, to the point of convincing Triangle FC, a Premier League club, with which he has signed a one-year contract.

In a twist of fate, he played his first match, last April, against his former club, Dynamos, and was simply amazing. He was once again a happy, cheerful, good-humoured player, and a tremendously effective one.

“The story has had a happy ending”, concludes Desmond Maringwa. “But for many players in our country, and I think elsewhere too, Guthrie has been an example to follow. He defended his rights, believed in justice and never threw in the towel, never gave up. He has proved that nothing is impossible... And for us, whose job is to defend players day by day, this fight has set the course for our future victories, while sending a strong, clear message to all those who are tempted to violate their obligations to professional players: in Zimbabwe, footballers and their union will fight to the end to make right and justice prevail.”

More about this issue:    Banned for life: the tragedy of Guthrie Zhokinyu
  FIFA needs to show up for Zimbabwe players