Zimbabwe are hoping to snap up a berth on the World Rugby Sevens Series this week in Hong Kong – with a little help from their friends.
The Cheetahs may be the African champions, but they have arrived for the qualifying tournament lacking basic amenities and funding from their economically collapsing country.
Hong Kong rugby fans have rallied round to fill the gap, raising money for essentials like meals and boots for the Zimbabwean players.
“Zimbabwe’s not doing well economically and we’ve been struggling ever since.
The big problem is getting money out of Zimbabwe,” senior player Tafadzwa Chitokwindo told AFP.
“The (Zimbabwe rugby) union cannot buy players tickets to fly in or fly wherever they have to go. So it’s always been a challenge to get everyone in one place and to train as a team.
“Every time we have to meet at a tournament and train together instead of meeting at home… so it’s always been a big challenge so far.”
It’s a familiar story for Zimbabwe, who turned up with no kit in 2015 and came within a heartbeat of winning the qualifying tournament, losing narrowly to Russia in the final.
“We always find a visit to Hong Kong a very interesting one and it’s always a helpful one in that we get welcomed by the Hong Kong community,” Zimbabwe coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba said.
“They do lots of charity work for us, they raise funds for us so that we can also be able to get extra kit, and a little something for the boys.”
This year a group of supporters raised HK$45,000 (US$5 800) to help cover the players’ expenses during the competition, held alongside the famous Hong Kong Sevens.
“They’re blown away by the support,” said Andrew Tasker, who organised the fundraiser and owns sportswear company Impact Prowear, the team’s supplier.
Ahead of the tournament, the Cheetahs are excited about the chance of a spot on next year’s world series, but realise competition will be tough.
“We’re obviously going to take each game as it comes. We haven’t come here under the illusion of just winning it easily,” said Nyamutsamba.
“This year getting to the semi-finals would be good for us. But you never know, with a game of sevens we might find ourselves in the finals and the ball bouncing our way and winning it.”