ZIMBABWE’S decisive rugby World Cup qualifier away to strife-torn Ivory Coast is hanging in the balance over security fears as tension still grips the west African nation despite a truce signe
d this year.
The Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) is taking a cautious approach ahead of the national team’s scheduled trip to Abidjan for the decisive preliminary round World Cup qualifier against Ivory Coast as the cocoa-producing country remains unstable.
Tension is still gripping Ivory Coast despite a peace deal signed in April this year between President Laurent Gbagbo’s government and the New Front rebel group, the two warring sides that have been fighting in a civil war since 2002.
Fears of fresh fighting have been on the rise since at least 100 people were killed in ethnic violence last month. Ivorian media reports have warned over the past few weeks that more fighting could break out.
ZRU president Bryn Williams confirmed this week that the union has formally written to the Ministry of Sports seeking government’s nod to travel to the ethnically divided country.
“We are still waiting for that government approval and we should get it by next week. We also have been corresponding with the IRB regional development officer for Francophone Africa, Jean-Luc Barthes, and he advises us that the situation in most of the country is stable and safe for us to go and play,” Williams said.
“Personally I think it will be safe for us to go there. But again, anything can happen between now and the 23th of July. We are closely monitoring the situation there.”
The tension in Ivory Coast has been compounded by the rebels’ refusal to disarm at the end of June under a deal mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Zimbabwe, Senegal and Ivory Coast are in Group A of the preliminary qualifying round for the 2007 World Cup in France. The top team advances to the next stage.
Meanwhile, the Sables are still training in two separate groups in Harare and Bulawayo in preparation for the tough away tie. ZRU chief executive Titus Zvomuya had a meeting with the Sables manager Doug Fingland this week were they discussed chances of bringing more foreign based players to strengthen the team which toiled to beat Senegal 21-15 in their first match last month.
“We have given them (the technical department) a blank cheque. Its now up to the coach to decide which players he wants and the union will make efforts to bring in the players”, said Zvomuya.