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New CE seeks to unify Zim rugby

BLESSING Chiutare already shows natural signs of tiredness one month into the job, but one can understand why.
He has just landed one of the top posts in Zimbabwean sports, chief executive of the country’s third-biggest sport in terms of profile.

By Enock Muchinjo

Forty-two-year-old Chiutare is now the man in charge of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU), a sport in which the passion of those involved often triggers extreme emotions. People are frequently at each other’s throats, quite literally at times, especially if the stakes are high, or when results are eluding the team. An example was when the World Cup became a realistic dream in 2015. With a huge financial windfall running into millions of dollars beckoning if qualification was sealed — and Zimbabwean rugby poised to change forever after that — serious jostling ensued.

It was typical Zimbabwean rugby: they fight when things are good, and also when things are bad. All hell broke loose when a mere bonus point denied the Sables a spot at England 2015.

The heartbreak is still felt to this day. Instead of picking up the pieces, Zimrugby exploded, as it often does — paving way for the return of the dark days characterised by Africa Cup home defeats to Kenya and Uganda last year.

But Chiutare sees himself as the unifier amidst all these headaches, the man to pull Zimrugby from the rubble and drive the vision of bringing back Zimbabwe to its rightful place at the pinnacle of the game in Africa.

“The ZRU belongs to the nation, not to a few people,” Chiutare said this week. “Rugby, too, belongs to Zimbabweans. I’m merely a servant put there to execute what’s best for Zimrugby. It’s time we get patriotism back into rugby, not individualism and self-centredness.”

Chiutare’s appointment was endorsed at the beginning of the month by the game’s global governing body, World Rugby, following a recruitment exercise conducted with the guidance of the Dublin-based organisation.

Of major priority to Chiutare is all rugby players in Zimbabwe, then, the heartbeat of rugby in the country, the Sables.

“I appreciate that it (the Sables) is the main team. If it’s not doing well then everything else doesn’t do too well,” he said. “My first port of call as CEO is to meet the coaches, then the players, to get an overview of what they want, and together work on what needs to be done to get what we all desire.”

Openness, an enormous source of player-administration wars in Zimrugby over the years, is an area Chiutare is eager to address.

“My policy is telling the truth,” he said. “Player welfare is uppermost. If there is money to pay players I will say it. If there isn’t any, in this cash-strapped economy, I will tell them too. I will not promise them castles in the sky.”

Zimbabwe was the first African country to take part in the Rugby World Cup after appearing at the inaugural edition in Australia and New Zealand in 1987. The Sables also took part in the next World Cup in Britain in 1991, but the third biggest sporting event in the world after the Fifa World Cup and Summer Olympics has eluded them ever since.

The Sables will take another World Cup shot next year for the 2019 edition. But first, there is this current season, where they are aiming to stay in the top four of the eight-team Africa Cup, a criterion for the qualification competition in 2018.

“Our vision is to win the Africa Cup this year,” he said. “Then we start talking of (World Cup) qualification. Then we need to get our administration in order in terms of changing the way we do things; moving from being a sport eternity to a business entity.”

Chiutare has been involved in the game almost his entire life, but his new position brings with it his biggest challenge to date.

He has played the game and coached it, but both not at the highest level, which perhaps gave him the advantage and space to see things from a bird eye’s view.

He played schoolboy rugby at Churchill, then for Harare Sports Club’s second team. He has coached his old school Churchill in addition to several lesser roles in ZRU.

Chiutare’s work experience outside rugby includes hospitality, spending a number of years as the casinos general manager for Africa Sun and Montclair. There he got used to the hands-on approach, methods he will also apply at rugby.

He will this weekend leads a squad of Zimbabwe A and women’s team for a tournament in Botswana, he says, to get a feel of how it’s like on the ground.

In the 2017 Africa Cup, Zimbabwe will open against Kenya at Hartsfield in Bulawayo on July 15.

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