AS they prepare for their second year in office and another busy season, the Zimbabwe Rugby Union have done commendably well to take stock of their maiden year in charge with their president, Aaron Jani, outlining a grand vision anchored on re-establishing a national league.
Jani took over a ZRU that was coming from a tumultuous period during which time business had literally ground to a halt at the union and in which the Sables were barely recognisable as a national team.
Having been a former player, for both the national team and Bulawayo giants Old Miltonians in the era of the inter-cities league, Jani knows all too well the significance of a healthy national league for any sport.
It is against this background that the ZRU’s move to vigorously pursue the re-establishment of a branded national league must be commended and supported.
The union need every backing they can get to harness support from the corporate sector through various sponsorship packages that could in turn make it easier for teams to travel and be accommodated across the country.
Ultimately, all development programmes in domestic rugby should result in a competitive national team able to qualify for major showcases like the World Cup and winning the Africa Cup on a regular basis.
It is an undoubted fact that Zimbabwe is blessed with a lot of talented rugby players, based at home and dotted around the globe, with some having even opted to switch nationalities in order to ply their trade on the more high-profile stages.
But, the move to set up a competitive national league, which follows the re-introduction of the Under-21 league, is a step in the right direction by a leadership that has also exhibited sound corporate governance qualities when establishing the Sables Trust — a commercial vehicle that has done very well to cater for the senior national team’s sponsorship and welfare issues.
Jani has also noted the growth of women sport, across all disciplines, and acknowledged that rugby needed to bolster its women’s league structures.
His clarion call for more administrators to come on board and join the ZRU in growing the junior and women’s game speaks to a grand vision that should at the end of the next three years make dreams of World Cup qualification a more realistic target.
Rugby, being the country’s third biggest sport after football and cricket, needs to be in a healthy and vibrant state if sport in Zimbabwe is to move along with global trends where it has become a big industry worth billions of dollars.
After conquering Africa, albeit with very limited resources and also being one of only four African countries at the 2018 Rugby Sevens World Cup, the Cheetahs are also in with a very strong chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
That could, somewhat, atone for the Sables’ failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup which incidentally will also be staged in Japan.
It is imperative that Jani and his two deputies — Martin Shone and Losson Mtongwiza — ensure that they keep the ZRU ship steady and also move to attract television coverage for the domestic game given the mega bucks that sport now reaps from TV rights.
While they may have audacious plans in store, the ZRU must also be cautious enough to take note of the tough economic operating environment and ensure their ambitious bid to get rugby to bounce back to its former glory, does not suffer a stillbirth.
We also implore on the ZRU to pull out all the stops and ensure the Sables do not suffer the ignominy of fighting against relegation from the Africa Gold Cup this year.
Crucially, for the ZRU, there are reports of a major buy-in of their vision from the Government, which follows their meeting with Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry.
The union could also use the upcoming Harare International Sevens tournament from March 22-24 to not only showcase the Cheetahs’ qualities but remind the world of Zimbabwe’s capacity as a peaceful and hospitable nation.
That the union have been able to lure such a high-profile coach like Peter de Villiers to this country underlines the fact that Zimbabwe rugby has the capacity to bounce back and 2019 could the year to take that recovery path to a higher level.
We believe the game can only get better.
Source : The Herald