THE saga behind the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU)’s cancellation of tomorrow’s SabIes continental match against Madagascar deepened yesterday after allegations of “shortcomings” on the part of the u
Zimbabwe were due to host Madagascar in a crucial first round match of the Africa Cup.
In a hastily arranged press conference on Wednesday, ZRU president Lawrence Majuru said the union had applied to the Africa Rugby Board and International Rugby Board (IRB) for the cancellation of the match because players had refused to honour the fixture at Harare Sports Club, a venue chosen by the union.
“This development (cancellation) has arisen as a result of Zimbabwe players refusing to play the game at a designated venue – Harare Sports Club – because they believe the pitch is sub-standard,” Majuru said.
Investigations by IndependentSport yesterday revealed that players had not refused to play but were seeking a change of venue. They preferred Hartsfield Ground in Bulawayo.
Sources said players had raised concern that Harare Sports Club was in a condition unsuitable for the crunch tie which Sables had to win by a comprehensive margin.
Senior players told IndependentSport that when they complained about the state of the pitch ZRU had told players their complaints were not justified as they had used a worse pitch in Uganda.
It also emerged yesterday that the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) which supervises all national sporting associations had been requested by the players to inspect another pitch they had chosen as an alternative.
“An official at SRC came to inspect the match venue and told us that ZRU had the final say since it runs rugby affairs,” said one senior player.
Efforts by the players to have the match played at Hartsfield were thwarted by ZRU, which said the union did not have sufficient money to fly the Indian Ocean islanders there.
Further investigations revealed that on Wednesday players were given a letter they were supposed to sign confirming that they had refused to play the match.
The letter reads: “This serves to confirm that I … has refused to participate in the Zimbabwe-Madagascar game on 19 July 2003 because the pitch is, in my opinion, in a sub-standard condition”
The players refused to sign the letter.
Rugby experts said the union should have found a way of solving the problem than cancel the match.
Forfeiting of the match could result in the suspension of Sables from the competition.
“This is about egos … If ZRU has problems with certain players, it should have looked for other players – not cancel the match,” said a rugby analyst.
Cracks within ZRU emerged when then Sables coach Godwin Murambiwa resigned last month.
Murambiwa had taken over from Mark Donato in 2001.
Alex Nicholls who had replaced Murambiwa only lasted a week before throwing in the towel after a barrage of criticism based on his suitability for the post.
There were also complaints that player grievances were not addressed and this had affected their performance.
A fortnight ago, Sables were walloped 25-3 by the Ugandan Cranes in Kampala.
Defeat by the East Africans, a team they defeated 45-0 last year, raised questions about the ability of the team and its administrators.