IndependentSport View – Itai Dzamara
MY efforts at defining and identifying the state of rugby in this country since the end of last week took me to a familiar conclusion.
FONT face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>And it was by coincidence that my colleague Lloyd Mutungamiri, the Standard sports editor wrote in Sunday’s edition about the sport of tennis, which he concluded, was “on the death row”.
I couldn’t avoid in my final compilation of this column repeating the same conclusion about sporting disciplines in this country. Rugby is also on death row.
It would be unfair if I don’t mention the assistance I got from Vincent Kahiya, my news editor in defining the state of rugby.
Kahiya, a qualified rugby coach himself covered the sport extensively during his early days in this noble profession of journalism. He was very resourceful.
With the latest revelations that the rot in Zimbabwe’s sport has found a home in cricket, it goes without saying that most if not all sports in this country are bleeding to death. In this unfortunate scenario the ineptitude of this institution called the Sports and Recreation Commission is laid bare.
The rugby sport has sunk to embarrassing depths and it is not surprising that the total sponsorship package for the Cottco Rugby Schools Festival held at Prince Edward School last week surpasses what will be put into the national league this season.
Rugby at the national level has not recovered from a litany of squabbles that rocked it almost a decade ago. The leadership that was at the helm of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) before the squabbles had made strides towards attracting sponsorship.
It will be remembered how National Breweries through its Zambezi brand together with other members of the corporate world such as Puzey and Payne and Farmec laid a firm foundation for the development of the sport.
Under the leadership of vastly-experienced rugby administrators like former chairman Basil Foster-Jones and vice chairman Warren Wentzell, the sport had developed a highly-competitive and well-sponsored national league.
Rugby enthusiasts will always treasure fond memories of the fierce battles for supremacy involving clubs such as Sports Club, Old Hararians and Old Miltonians.
The Sables, the most vital baby of local rugby – like the Warriors are in soccer – were well-funded and records would prove that the team had become one of the forces to reckon with on the African continent. Regular commitments against South African provincial sides in the Bankfin competition ensured the Sables could compete against the strong sides on the continent like Namibia, Ivory Coast and Morocco. The current team is no longer in that league. It was unthinkable in the mid-1990’s that Zimbabwe would lose to Zambia of all teams.
The repeated postponement of the Sables match against Madagascar last year amid chaos involving players and administrators symbolises the deep crisis in local rugby.
There are reasons behind the gradual descent into the abyss, which more or less relate to those currently emerging in cricket.
Individuals motivated by political and racial agendas besieged rugby in the mid-90s purporting to force racial integration in the sport previously dominated by whites. This so-called fight for racial integration took an emotional path merely focused at replacing whites with blacks. The inevitable transpired.
There was a drastic waste of talent – both black and white. Sponsors took flight, players – both black and white – left the country in droves, the national team was decimated and the sport has become a national disgrace. This is why we lost to Zambia!
Sponsors always detest associating with sporting disciplines that get embroiled in turmoil. Rugby suffered the effects of a bad image and the consequences are there for all to see.
The emotional battle for “racial balance” affected the Sables. Calls grew louder by the day from groups agitating for racial integration for which fitness trainer and Zanu PF activist Themba Mliswa was the major front. Black players increasingly found their way into the national team.
The friction sucked the energy from rugby leadership and the national and provincial structures gradually descended into a lull. Eventually what remained was a pale shadow of what had once been a thriving sport.
Currently the national rugby league doesn’t have a sponsor, neither does it have a coach. There are no development structures to talk about. Whatever happened to Level 3 coaches who were trained by Briton Colin Osborne?
Negotiations with Delta Beverages, which has been sponsoring rugby in the past couple of years through its Lion Lager brand have gone on for a long time without yielding tangible results.
A skeleton league of 10 teams, usually embroiled in squabbles and controversy, is what is currently being referred to as the national league.
“We are currently going it alone without a sponsor” has become the standard answer from the ZRU leadership and the effects of that are there for all to see.
The national league, which kicked off last month, has resorted to playing one round instead of teams meeting on home-and-away basis. That reduces competition and clubs have justifiably complained.
The teams in the league at the moment have predominantly black players. The coaches are black. The administrators are black. The indeginisation thrust has been achieved but there is no empowerment.
Changing the colour coding has not worked. The solution – rationality.
l I am convinced it is vital to emphasise some home truths ahead of the Harare derby pencilled for Rufaro Stadium on Sunday when Dynamos takes on Caps United.
The causes of pandemonium that usually characterises such derbies are well-known and why not for once nip them in the bud, both for the good of the game and the thrill that goes along with such encounters.
To start with, officials from both clubs must be warned against making statements that incite fans ahead of the game as has happened in the past.
Zifa and the PSL must descend heavily on club officials that regard themselves as bigger than the beautiful game by inciting fans into violence.
Then there is the issue of the chaos that ensues at the gates. Fans must be urged to go to the stadium a bit early to avoid the last-minute stampede. At the same time there is need for better organisation by the clubs to avoid the usual inexplicable opening of few gates that causes long-winding queues.
There is the obvious need for tighter security at Sunday’s match both inside and outside the stadium.
Lastly, players have to conduct themselves in a professional manner to avoid inciting fans into violence. True professionals accept the result and wait for another day to battle.
This country must have learnt from the sad chapter of June 9 2000 when 13 fans died at the National Sports Stadium due to crowd problems to avoid unnecessary further losses of life. May the better team win.