IN PLACE of the outpouring of sympathy towards Peter de Villiers following his sacking as Zimbabwe’s rugby coach — news that I broke to the world this week — we would have witnessed downright ridicule and contempt for the former Springbok coach had that decision been made a few months earlier.
By Enock Muchinjo
What has been told to the world, that the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) fired de Villiers for unauthorised absence from work, because the South African needed to be at the bedside of his cancer-stricken daughter, leaves our rugby governing body with an image crisis and battered reputation.
Sickness is awful, and when it is cancer — a scary disease — the emotional distress to loved ones can be unbearable.
In a scathing attack on the ZRU on Wednesday after the story of his sacking was picked up by global media, de Villiers claimed, rather sensationally, that the Zimbabwean rugby federation had accused him of faking the extent of his daughter’s illness.
Of course, if it were true, it does portray the ZRU in bad light — an insensitive bunch with hearts so hard as not to be moved by the anguish of a 61-year-old employee, whose child is bed-ridden by a terrible disease.
De Villiers has swung more punches in the direction of the ZRU — telling reporters in South Africa about how his Zimbabwe players were not well-looked after, alleging team selection interference by officials, among other not-so-flattering remarks about the association.
While such allegations are not new in Zimrugby having swirled around the sport for many years across different administrations, it, however, becomes bad publicity for any national sports federation — when it makes worldwide headlines — with potential to harm reputation.
While the ZRU has taken a good deal of flak for what many consider to be insensitivity, it must not be forgotten that the same association saved the former Boks mentor from unceremonious exit from the Zimbabwe job last year.
And because de Villiers is good with words, he has seized the opportunity to remove the focus away from his dreadful record with the Sables.
At the end of last season, the ZRU executive had resolved to sack de Villiers for failing to fulfil his mandate, guiding Zimbabwe to this year’s World Cup in Japan.
Under de Villiers, Zimbabwe were never in the race, as was the case when Brendan Dawson’s team dared to dream in 2014 and agonisingly came just a bonus point away from qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. In fact, under de Villiers, the Sables flirted with relegation from the top tier of African rugby.
The axe was hovering over de Villiers around the end of last year, with the South African only surviving the chop after the ZRU’s enlarged board — composing of representatives of all stakeholders of Zimrugby — put up a reasonable argument against reacting emotionally, requesting that the Capetonian be allowed to complete his two-year tenure.
Had he been fired because of results, failing with poor little Zimbabwe, the press in his home country — most of which does not rate de Villiers’ coaching ability highly — would have had a field day, instead of the sympathy he is enjoying now.
Because de Villiers was not sacked last year — and it would have been very difficult for him at his age to get another top job — a lot of people in the rugby world are not talking about his failure on the results side, only the supposed lack of compassion of the ZRU.
Talk of being spared the blushes!