MADAGASCAR – Zimbabwe can once again be a great rugby-playing nation. We have the talent, the passion and determination to make it happen.
Unfortunately, like many institutions in the country, rugby has suffered from the ongoing instability in our social, political and economic environment.
Currently our clubs and the union are run on shoe-string budgets (with plenty of support from volunteers), and our school-rugby stars move “quickly” to greener pastures in SA, Australia, US or Europe.
Yet despite this, Zimbabwe are the current African champions. The Sevens team qualified for the World Cup.
The Sables have put their best team forward barring one or two rebels who could have made it but have brought winning results against Madagascar and are still in contention for the 2015 World Cup.
Sadly, prior to leaving for Madagascar, there was an “uproar” in the social and news media brought about by a petition and stand-off by former national players, and rugby supporters.
Articles posted in the paper (such as the one by Gerald Maguranyanga in one of the local papers) presented one-sided opinions, and personal attacks about the way the Sables were being managed.
Yet team management is very complex, even more so when resources are limited. There are many tough discussions and decisions that need to be made.
And although many in this country like to see things in “as black and white”, there is a need to consider what is best for the team, which is representing the country.
Where we agree, and I concur wholeheartedly with Maguranyanga is that “the most-capable men and women, black or white, must be promoted to take up leadership positions in the game, and not seemingly favoured characters.”
Unfortunately, that was (and is not) the view of the players submitting the petition days before the team was leaving to Madagascar.
The petition raised issues about team selection, resources and players expectations.
And yes, it is the right of these players to express their expectations and to be heard.
However, as selected members of the national team, they should have the nation’s reputation at heart, and it is also the responsibility of players to be part of the solution.
Unfortunately, the core group of the players signing the petition this July, are the same group of players who have written or signed more than four petitions in five years.
Choosing the most challenging times (when in camp or on tour) to voice their “concerns” about everything from the condition of grounds, to the management, to the coaches (international or local), to monetary rewards.
They do this to destabilise the team….and force the hand of management into a position of pandering to their issues.
Options have been provided, hearings have been held and over the years significant changes have been made (sometimes at the determinant of the national team).
*In 2004, player power lead by Victor Olonga, Costa Dinha, Prayer Chitenderu and a very young Cleopas Makotose claimed that the Harare Sports Club field was substandard for international matches. This petition led to the cancellation of the game against Uganda.
*In 2009, about five days before departure to the Sevens World Cup, a petition lead by Makotose, Gardner Nechironga, Willis Magasa, Gerald Sibanda and Tangai Nemandire calling for the ouster of Bruce Hobson as team manager, causing a few headaches until foreign coach Liam Middleton came. He proposed to drop all eight signatories in a 12-man team until they apologised and come back into the fold.
*In 2011, a group led by Dinha, Makotose, Chitenderu, and Nemadire called for then manager Noddy Kanyangarara to relinquish the manager’s position after their triumph in the Group B Africa Cup in Uganda.
When Kanyangarara remained unfazed, their “fire” turned on coach Brendan Dawson. Their ill-founded claims were extensively covered in the press in December and January 2011 to 2012. The ZRU technical team recommended that Dawson continues as head coach.
*More recently in July 2012 (Tunisia), another petition was handed in to me just before the final of the Africa Cup.
This was written on a piece of paper calling for the ouster of the brand committee and demanded more money for fulfilment of the final against Uganda. We managed to negotiate this without paying a “ransom”.
On our return we had one training boycott which degenerated into a talk show. The same group of players called for a meeting with the union bosses.
This was granted and it was held at Old Hararians in August 2012. At this meeting a clear communication channel was established as TJ Chifokoyo was appointed player representative and Tichafara Makwanya was to deputise him.
Clear communication channels for players to voice concerns have been open and available to all since that time.
The “rebels” chose not to use them. The underlying issues to all these petitions is a need for more money and for players to avoid competition and keep their positions.
Sadly, no-one will stay in their positions forever, but that is just nature, isn’t it?
Players and management should know that new and young talent will be born and will grow every day.
Results will not come sometimes and management and coaches will be shown the door.
If we want Zimbabwe to continue to rise to the top, and for every young schoolboy to dream of playing for the Sables, there is a need for cooperation, collaboration and effort by players and management alike.
Mud-slinging in the media, petitions before the “big” games, player ill-discipline and lack of commitment by all, will only bring down the reputation of Zimbabwe as a rugby-playing nation.
We need our best players to be committed champions of the Sables, and not be a de-stabilising force.
There is much more to be done, and ‘together we can do more’ thus anyone with a passion to build Zimbabwe rugby is welcome to support.
*Losson Mtongwiza is the Zimbabwe national rugby team manager.