EUROPE is the destination of dreams for many young athletes from Africa.
By Enock Muchinjo
This is where the glitz, glamour and razzmatazz are: where the finest Africa has to offer should end up.
So, for many talented sportsmen from this continent, the greatest aspiration is to one day land that big life-changing contract on fertile European soil.
Because their sport generally pays better in world sport, a majority of the footballers who are lucky to make the breakthrough do end up living their dream. Fortunes are made, and lifestyles changed.
But throw a quick look around and you will find that it is not all footballers who have left Africa for the “greener pastures” of Europe that have reaped the full rewards of their talents.
A great number has returned back home with harrowing tales of misfortunes, some even fortunate to be still alive after falling prey to bogus agents who expose them to trafficking and exploitation.
Now if that can happen to footballers, spare a thought for the other African athletes from the other smaller sporting disciplines who are also desperately eager to eke out a living in Europe through their God-given talents.
For Zimbabwean rugby player Gerald Sibanda, arriving in Romania in July 2017 was the opportunity of a lifetime — becoming a full-time rugby pro.
But unfair treatment was something he had read about in the press and wasn’t prepared to experience, so when an opportunity arose in Zimbabwe to make a name for himself in the business world — Sibanda was quick to catch a flight to begin his long journey back home to Harare.
The name Dinamo Bucharest is commonly known in association with its football team, the second most successful Romanian club in terms of league titles after city rivals Steaua Bucharest — winners of the old European Cup back in 1986 before the competition was rebranded into the present-day Uefa Champions League four years later.
While Steaua are without question the footballing aristocrats of Romania, Dinamo is a place that also oozes sporting history.
Dinamo’s rugby club, which just like the football section rivals Steaua, is one of Romania’s best.
A winger and sometimes centre with international caps for Zimbabwe, Sibanda’s contract with Dinamo was supposed to run between August 2017 and May 2018. But despite having an otherwise “amazing time” in Romania, he was forced to leave the country at the beginning of this year after going unpaid for three months.
With no robust players’ representative body in Zimbabwe for rugby, 31-year-old Sibanda has had to seek the local guidance of ex-footballer Desmond Maringwa, who heads the proficient Footballers Union of Zimbabwe (FUZ).
“I have approached World Rugby, the International Rugby Players Association (IRPA) — who have engaged the Romanian rugby federation to look into the matter with CS Dinamo Bucharest. I have also got valuable support from a brother and colleague, Desmond Maringwa. I look forward to resolving this matter and moving on with my life and career.”
When one looks back at Sibanda’s career and ability, it is sad to think of the unhappy fate that befell him in Romania.
He emerged with buckets of talent from Churchill Boys High in Harare to be included in Zimbabwe’s hugely-gifted squad that went to South Africa in 2005 for the inaugural but short-lived Under-19 Rugby World Championship.
Then he developed fast enough to feature in the prestigious World Rugby Sevens Series — when Zimbabwe used to regularly slug it out toe-to-toe with the best international Sevens sides on the planet — and then earning quite a few Sables caps, the pinnacle of his rugby career.
Often we read of athletes who have fallen in unfortunate life circumstances because they did not put plans in place for their post-sports lives, and Sibanda — who is presently studying towards a marketing degree — has a word of advice.
“I encourage fellow sportsmen to study and be empowered for the future during their playing careers,” Sibanda says.
“The glory in sport is shorter and only lasts during your playing days. Once your playing career is over, a big life awaits and one must avoid being an old-aged rookie in work and business.”
Where he used to be seen dishing out big hits on the rugby field, darting down to score tries and getting dirty, these days Sibanda can seen in neatly-tailored suits in an immaculate showroom in central Harare, selling top-of-the-range vehicles to the who’s who of society in Zimbabwe.
He works as a lifestyle consultant for FaraMatsi Motors, run by his brother-in-law and prominent business executive Farai Matsika — who has hand-holded the former Zimbabwe rugby star in his transition into the business world.
The company is a Mazda franchise which deals with sales, service and spares of range of vehicles manufactured and assembled in Japan, Thailand and Europe.
Making a living out of playing sport isn’t so bad, quite as much, when you think about it, as selling cars in the twilight stages of your playing career. The fulfilment it brings shows clearly in Sibanda.
“We also have a division that imports anything on wheels, having preciously supplied Bentley, Rolls Royce, Range Rovers and other vehicles for our markets,” he explains.
“So from our range of vehicles it is my duty to classify the right vehicle of one’s lifestyle. Someone’s personality can even be interpreted through their choice of colour and mostly vehicles. It’s my duty to satisfy my customers and fit in the right vehicle and services suited for their lifestyle, be it in business, leisure and comfort.”
But Sibanda knows there is a great deal of adjustment to make, and also getting to grips with the challenges of the market.
“Getting into business is not so easy considering that as sportsmen, in our everyday lives, we focus more on training, games, conditioning, self-improvement and performance analysis,” says Sibanda.
“Our world is centred on travels, fitness and performance on the pitch. In the business industry the universe becomes so diverse and there are plenty of opportunities for growth as a professional and as a person too. This, to me, is the real world.”