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MBABANE – “Will the Somhlolo National Stadium ever be accepted by FIFA for international matches or is it time we considered building a new stadium?”

FIFA denotes Federation of International Football Associations. The federation alongside the Confederation of African Football (CAF), banned the country’s two venues; Somhlolo National Stadium at Lobamba and Mavuso Sports Centre in Manzini from hosting international matches. This is due to failure to meet international standards and posing a health risk to occupants.

The ban came around the 2017/18 season and affected Mbabane Swallows who were playing inter-club football in the TOTALEnergies Champions League. They needed a special permit from CAF to continue using Mavuso, while Somhlolo was closed by government for rehabilitation. MTN Premier League champions Royal Leopard had to host their CAF Confederation Cup group matches in Mbombela Stadium, South Africa early this year while the senior national team Sihlangu are also going through the same in the TOTALEnergies Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 Qualifiers and TOTALEnergies African Nations Championship (CHAN) 2022 Qualifiers. Sihlangu are to host Botswana’s Zebras in South Africa, Orlando Stadium on Sunday afternoon.


It is on these grounds that the stadium issue remains a hot topic for the country and legislators in the House of Assembly, who took turns requesting answers last week during the Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs Ministry’s First Quarter Performance Report for the financial year 2022/23 of the relevant portfolio committee chaired by Member of Parliament (MP) Philemon Nhleko.

Other members of the portfolio committee are MP Enos Magongo who is the Vice Chairperson, MP Timothy Myeni, Victor Malambe, Nelson Mamba, Dumisani Mbhamali, Madala Mhlanga and Vincent Malavi Sihlongonyane. Alternate members are MPs Lutfo Dlamini, Nkhanyeti Ngwenya, Manzi Zwane, Macford Sibandze, Ndumiso Masimula, Welcome Shongwe, Bhekitje Dlamini and Derrick Masuku as well as the Sports Ministry and secretariat Thando Dlamini.


Questions and comments were the order of the day last week, with Minister Harries ‘Madze’ Bulunga expected to give his written responses this past Monday. Bulunga returned with his responses which included the topical CAF and FIFA bans from hosting international matches due  to non-qualifying stadiums. As already aforementioned, one of the questions was about the national stadium’s future in as far as the ban is concerned.

‘Will it ever host international matches again?’ was basically what MP Nelson Mamba was asking.
The MP had also taken the chance to congratulate Sihlangu for their COSAFA Cup 2022 performance despite getting knocked out by the continent’s best, Senegal in the quarterfinals. Another MP Ndumiso Masimula said the country’s soccer ‘Mecca’ should be used for what it is fit for, including national celebrations and then focus on building a new, modern stadium for international matches.


In response, Bulunga said; “Somhlolo Stadium will continue to be useful for local sport as well as other local uses including national celebrations and for the use by other groups including churches and schools. However, it is true that the country does need a new, modern stadium and we will continue to engage relevant stakeholders on this matter. This is in Government’s plan as articulated in the Post COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan.” MP Vulimpompi Nhleko said the ministry should find a way to establish agreements with Qatar on some of the FIFA World Cup 2022 movable stadiums and bring these to Eswatini. MP Enos Magongo wanted to know what criteria CAF used when inspecting the stadiums.

Bulunga explained that the standards set for stadiums were ever changing and reviewed every two years, which is also the reason the latest CAF inspection back in April failed Somhlolo Stadium. What they had initially banned it for may have been partly fixed but new requirements came up this year and it affected the whole continent. MP Vincent Malavi Sihlongonyane recommended the ministry needed to establish a body, whose sole purpose would be resource mobilisation for the development of adequate sporting infrastructure.

To this, Bulunga’s response was that ‘‘the National Sports Bill that we are working on’ among other things, caters for the establishment of a Sports Development Fund which will cater for such issues.’’ Meanwhile, the portfolio committee’s findings and recommendations were also listed. In its findings, the committee observed that the budget allocation for the ministry ‘is too limited’ for it to deliver meaningfully to the development of sports and upliftment of the youth. The committee recommended that the ministry should continue engaging the relevant ministries with the view to secure adequate budgetary allocation for the forthcoming financial year 2023/24.
“In the meantime, the ministry should consider developing a resource mobilisation strategy and appraise the House on a quarterly basis,” further reads the main recommendation. The other finding was that the ministry responded satisfactory to the concerns and questions by members and recommended the august House of Assembly adopted its report and the report of the Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs Ministry for the quarter and year in question and that duly took place.

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