Forgotten Nations of Rugby: Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean Rugby: A sport in chaos
In a country where it is constantly playing third fiddle to both soccer and cricket, Zimbabwean Rugby is a sport that has descended into chaos.
The national rugby team, affectionately known as The Sables, have recorded a dismal run of defeats at this year’s Africa Gold Cup. The tournament, which doubles as qualification for Rugby World Cup 2019, features the four teams from 2016's Division 1A –Kenya, Namibia, Uganda and Zimbabwe as well as two pool winners from 1B, Tunisia and Senegal.
The Sables opened the tournament with a win over minnows Senegal, despite trailing at half time. But it's safe to say their tournament took a downturn from there on in.
Successive defeats to Namibia, Kenya, Tunisia and Uganda followed and the Zimbabwean Sports and Recreation Commission wasted no time in taking action. They sacked the entire Zimbabwean Rugby Union Board with immediate effect.
Zimbabwean Rugby Union – Swift justice
The board had been accused of incompetence and had been dogged with continued allegations of infighting and squabbling. These internal struggles were seen as the key reason why the Sables suffered such a poor run of form in the summer of 2017.
Now, the drama doesn’t stop here!
Despite insistence that due process was followed and no defence was submitted in response to the imminent firings, the dismissed board members moved to appeal the decision.
Saying “Respondent grossly misdirected itself by finding appellants guilty of punishable misconduct without (i) notifying them of the charges preferred against them (ii) affording them time to prepare their defenses and (iii) any evidence of their having crime”.
The result of this appeal remains to be seen.
State of turmoil
Since the dismissal, the world of Zimbabwean Rugby has continued in its state of turmoil. Having announced an interim board, Sports Minister Makhosini Hlongwane, was surely disappointed to hear that two of the named members had since turned down the opportunity to join the board, citing a lack of due process in the appointment procedure as the reason.
Fair to say that interim President Russell Karimazondo faces an uphill challenge in leading Zimbabwe to the World Cup in Japan.
Although, it is a challenge which he relishes. Moving on from 18 months of squabbling and pettiness, Rugby Zimbabwe must now provide a united and stable front ahead of the 2018 qualification tournament.
Karimazondo has spoken of a need to make the players the stars of the show. After a summer dominated by headlines of background strife, this can only be a good thing.
Zimbabwe’s Rugby Profile:
World Ranking: 36th
Biggest Win: 130–10, Botswana, 9 September 1996
Biggest Export: Gone for Tendai Mtawarira here, although the list of world class international players of Zimbabwean nationality is incredible. The Beast is a personal favourite and I couldn’t resist. David Pocock was a close second. Brian Mujati, above, a close third!
Professional League: No
World Cup Appearances: 2
Highest Finish: Group Stages. No games win in two appearances.
An issue of professionalism
A glance through the biggest exports above and you'll see in essence the principle issue facing Zimbabwean rugby. They have experienced an exodus of genuine world class players. With little incentive to play senior level rugby it’s natural that gifted players will travel abroad for a higher level.
The issue here seems to be at the international level. Zimbabwean players have donned the jerseys of Australia, Scotland, USA, and South Africa among many others.
To keep the best players, the formula is simple. You must be competitive at the highest level. This has to be the ultimate target for Zimbabwe. As they enter a crucial year of qualification they can draw inspiration from their national sevens team. Having recently qualified for the Sevens World Cup in 2018, the Cheetahs, as they’re known, provide a ray of hope for this new era of Zimbabwean Rugby.
Sources: http://sportbrief.co.zw and www.theindependent.co.zw. Many thanks.
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