I WOULD have never anticipated the kind of reaction generated after last week’s instalment of this column.
Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo
I do still make no apology for my contempt towards the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) leadership under Nyararai Sibanda, which has now been sacked by the country’s supreme sports regulatory body, the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC).
That Sibanda’s administration was a massive failure is a view shared by a lot of people. It is quite a pleasing move the SRC has taken. The onus now for them is to vindicate themselves with another smart move: putting the game back in the right hands. Where I might have erred a bit and upset quite a number of people last week on this column was the generous praise poured on Sibanda’s predecessor, John Falkenberg, ignoring a lot of good guys before him who sacrificed a lot — precious time and personal financial resources — to actually lay the groundwork that put the team on the threshold of the 2015 World Cup.
I unreservedly take that back.
Of course, to overlook the fact that the vision of the World Cup really took shape under the astute leadership of the hardworking Themba Sibanda, Falkenberg’s predecessor, is to belittle the enormous work of of a man of extraordinary character who despite committing personal fortune into the game, never sought public praise or desired the limelight.
It was Themba Sibanda (who ironically shares a surname with Nyararai), as selfless a sports administrator as they come, who plucked the Sables from the unfashionable third tier of African rugby, Group 1C, to build a team that would come a try away from returning to the Rugby World Cup for the first time in 23 years. But let us also not forget the tremendous work done before by Themba’s own predecessor and great mate Bruce Hobson, who had initially hauled Zimbabwe from the dark days of the early to mid-2000s. Before ascending to the ZRU presidency, Hobson had performed wonders in the Sevens format, putting Zimbabwe’s team on the world map on the circuit.
The Sevens network contributed significantly to the resurgence of Zimbabwean rugby at Sables level, with players who had honed their skills on the Sevens circuit, for the first time becoming part and parcel of the country’s main rugby team.
Industrious men like Losson Mtongwiza and Grant Mitchell, who also had Sevens links, became part of the Sables set-up and helped transform the team to the pinnacle of African rugby.
Just before Hobson took over, Zimbabwe had plummeted to an all-time low, losing to such sides as Zambia and Senegal, minnows of the game on the continent.
Under Nyararai Sibanda, we were heading back there. But of course, there are many more men, very good and passionate rugby guys, whose contribution to Zimbabwean rugby around that time was enormous. Mtongwiza himself, Dumile Moyo, Bongai Zamchiya, Godwin Murambiwa — to name but a few. A small community like Zimbabwean rugby cannot afford to have such men of undoubted knowledge, passion and competence outside the structures.