ZIMBABWE could after all be forced to play their crucial opening 2011 Rugby World Cup qualifier in a neutral country due to Senegalâ€™s refusal to play in Zimbabwe on security grounds.
The Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) has in turn written to International Rugby Board (IRB) regional development manager for Africa, Cliffy Booysen, insisting the political situation in the country will not threaten the Senegalese teamâ€™s safety.
In his response yesterday, Booysen said the decision will be made by the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) at the continental bodyâ€™s executive meeting on June 25.
The match between the Sables and Senegal is scheduled for July 12 in Bulawayo, and the FÃ©dÃ©ration SÃ©nÃ©galaise de Rugby wrote to the IRB and CAR saying their safety would not be guaranteed two weeks after Zimbabweâ€™s presidential run-off elections.
The matter seemed resolved last week after ZRU and the Namibia Rugby Union appeared to have struck an agreement to change around the original Pool A fixtures.
Instead of hosting Senegal first on July 12, the revised itinerary would then have seen the Sables travelling to Windhoek before hosting Senegal on August 2, when they are originally scheduled to play in Namibia.
The Namibians this week made a U-turn on the agreement, making the likelihood of the Sables playing in a neutral country high. Zambian capital Lusaka is said to be the likely changed venue, but Zimbabwe prefer Johannesburg if IRB rules in favour of a neutral venue.
Yesterday ZRU boss Bruce Hobson was still hopeful of securing a home match.
“We are still trying to keep the match in Bulawayo,” Hobson said. “We have written to IRB through the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) saying it will be okay for the Senegalese to play here. The Namibia soccer team was here last weekend and the country has also hosted basketball and athletics tournaments recently.”
ZRU has also proposed the postponement of the Senegal match to a later date in August as the only acceptable alternative.
CAR, polarised between Francophone and English-speaking countries, has been accused of consistently making biased decisions against southern Africa unions, particularly Zimbabwe, said a former Sables technical staff member.
“Three years ago in the middle of a civil strife in CÃ´te dâ€™Ivoire we travelled to Abidjan for an Africa Cup match,” he said. “At midnight we were forcibly checked out of our hotel by armed militias over some unpaid visas. We never sought mileage over it. CAR heard about it and kept quiet. Clearly Senegal just want the advantage of a neutral venue.”
Senegal host Namibia in Dakar in the first Pool A fixture tomorrow.
By Enock Muchinjo