Zim rugby’s self-inflicted damage

LAST week, we carried an interview with Blessing Chiutare, the new Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) chief executive.

Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo

Chiutare is a good rugby personality. Like a lot of people involved in this sport, he is extremely passionate about the game and always ready to make personal sacrifices if situations call.

I was fortunate as a young boy, at the peak of Zimbabwean schoolboy rugby around the mid-90s, to witness him play for a very good Churchill team that took on many a top side of that era, striking fear into quite a number of them.

And then he moved into the management side of the game years later and I became a reporter, we interacted frequently and shared many good rugby moments — and bad ones too.

There is never a short supply of enthusiasm with Chiutare’s kind when discussing the topic of rugby in Zimbabwe and I dare say, fireworks in between.

So after the recording machine switched off last week, we rolled back the years and went tete-a-tete, exchanging insights on the state of the game in the country.

For example, Chiutare refused to accept what to many is not quite a secret anymore, that rugby in Zimbabwe is fighting for dear life.

If he had felt so, he would not have put up his hand to captain a sinking ship.

He declared, with unblinking certainty, a clean bill of health for the game — tearing to shreds the gloomy picture showing Zimrugby in the intensive care unit.

He spoke highly of the standards of the country’s premier domestic competition, the Inter-City League, notably how he reckons it is strong enough to provide a formidable national side, save for a few reinforcements in certain positions.

Crucially, Chiutare offered his opinion on why matters almost came to a head after the heartbreak of failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2015, missing out on the handsome rewards that feat would have delivered.

He spoke and spoke — the fire I have known throughout the years unmistakable.

As he spoke, I felt the nudge to give back as much. For example, I spoke about how the people in positions in Zimrugby needed to completely change their mindsets, that childish old-boys’ club mentality, if rugby is to make inroads into the national consciousness.

I spoke about how I felt the guys in jackets and ties have for far too long suppressed such a watchable game with massive potential and spectator appeal, at all levels, to dislodge cricket as the country’s official number two sport. I warned against wilfully using rugby as a battleground for personal grudges and settling old scores.

I spoke about how the ordinary rugby fans who invest emotions and time into their sport care first and foremost for the wellbeing of the game, before any changes — cosmetic as they tend to be anyway — in the administration or team bench.

I spoke about the seething anger I saw in the stands twice at the Police Grounds last year when it became apparent that the Sables were headed for home defeats to Kenya and Uganda.

I spoke about how this anger could finally get out of control if the thousands that throng the Police Grounds or Hartsfield to cheer their national team realise that old schoolyard vendettas, and egoism, are being prioritised ahead of the game.

I spoke about how treasonous such behaviour will be, say, in football, the mayhem it would incite, if fans there find out they are being taken for a ride, that their beloved sport is just a pawn in the game of power politics, personal disputes and vengeance. But then football is a big sport here, and rugby has a small mentality.

So, I spoke about how rugby will remain a small sport in the eyes of many in this country if this costly nonsense does not stop.

Top