HARARE – Goodness me! It took a long six months into this year for local rugby authorities to arrange the Zimbabwe-Zambia encounter on Saturday evening.
But first things first . . .
The Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) — I hate that long, unchanging name in this era of short, sexy brand names, as serious sport entities around the world rebrand — must get a life. In fact, the boring farts at the rigid local Union need look no further than World Rugby, who truncated successfully from “International Rugby Board” to World Rugby and set themselves up for much organisational growth and economic success.
But then — a life — would be expecting too much from clueless administrators who displayed ineptitude and laziness on the night they hosted Zambia at the Harare Sports Club’s rugby stadium. Some of the administrative incapacity was as shocking as it was pathetic, but possibly expected. Would our appalling ZRU friends manage the proverbial piss-up in a brewery? I will not do any of my ZRU buddies an undeserved PR favour but just tell it as it is.
I arrived at the match venue just as both men’s teams were finishing their warm-up. The first conspicuous oddity easily noticeable was that a whole section of the bottom field had much less light than the upper part on the undulating field. And I wondered whose “great idea” it was to host a whole sanctioned international match under such lowly, potentially-harmful conditions.
The Harare Sports Club rugby field is lit by just 12 but expensive, high-output, halogen lamps. When four or five of those lamps are dead, it means you have lost significant candescence and it would be foolish, nay inconceivable, to host an international match in such less-than-ideal conditions.
How do you play an international match, your very first of the year, on a virtually unmarked surface? What does it take and what does it cost to clearly mark a grass field, anywhere in the world? It’s a no-brainer.
Good old, virtually-free whitewash always did the trick. Nothing as expensive as your PVA paint was ever used to depict the mandatory white lines on a grass sports field. The faceless ZRU has no leg to stand on with that indefensible gaffe.
And then, our submissive, non-authoritative Sports and Recreation Commission may be interested to know that a whole international friendly was played right in the heart of the capital city but a fundamental marker of a joust between two nations, the hosts’ and visitors’ anthems were not played. But how could they play the anthem without a PA system in the first place.
Maybe the hosting Union had just a “practice match” in mind when they played Zambia. But then, by all means, don’t short-change the fans by advertising an imitation Test match, asking each to pay, even the $2 token.
How on earth does the ZRU organise a game of that magnitude, a game that attracted a sizable, happy crowd but omit such a crucial safety marker as a perimeter fence to keep the boisterous crowd away from the players and vice versa?
On at least two occasions, in the area I was watching from, several players in a high-speed tackle situation nearly made contact with carefree fans who had wandered a metre or so onto the field because of the lack of visible marking and crucially, a perimeter marker or hoarding.
It got worse as the night wore on and the drinking fans got merrier. The line judges, instead of focusing attention on the match in progress, resorted to keeping unwary fans away from the area of play, some of whom were carelessly discarding empty beer bottles very close to the playing surface? I think in future, the SRC must insist on a basic organisational and safety benchmark for any sports entity to host anything “international”.
The Zimbabwe Football Association and Zimbabwe Cricket have perennially made a lot of uninspiring headlines in recent years but the ZRU have “raised the bar”, by plunging to previously-unseen depths, in an astonishing, comical, self-inflicted damage to the game.
The only good news from the night is that, thankfully, we actually played a rugby match as Zimbabwe for the first time this year. Cyprian Mandenge’s charges, ably-led by ageless skipper Denford Mutamangira, did not embarrass us but duly separated the men from the boys with a crushing victory over Zambia.
As there was no scoreboard running, strangely, possibly not even a single fan left the stadium knowing what the actual final score was. The final score eluded me too.
ZRU have badly lost their way. Groping around in the dark may get you to score with a girl, but it certainly is not the fool-proof, inspiring, winning way to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification. ZRU must just do rugby — and do it well.
* Maguranyanga is a former ZRU executive board member, and it’s youngest since 1895.