Petros Kausiyo, Harare Bureau
AFTER surviving a real threat of an international ban, Zimbabwe Rugby Union are eager to turn on the corner and ensure that the country is back on the radar that defines the game’s powerhouses on the continent.
The union avoided World Rugby and Rugby Africa sanctions, most notably an immediate suspension when they successfully staged a special elective meeting at Prince Edward on Saturday where Harare businessman Aaron Jani was confirmed as the new substantive president with Losson Mtongwiza and Martin Shone coming in as his deputies.
Jani, as revealed by our Harare Bureau earlier last week, had virtually won the mandate of the ZRU membership to lead the association and Saturday’s meeting became a mere platform to complete the constitutional formalities of his election.
It also became the stage for contests for the vice-presidents, after Jani’s rival for the presidency Russell Karimazondo formally withdrew his candidature before the start of proceedings.
Mtongwiza, bouncing back to the ZRU leadership, thrashed his contender Tungamirai Mashungu who had been serving in the interim committee with the former chairman of the Sables committee cruising to a 9-2 win.
It was a similar convincing margin of victory for Bulawayo-based Shone as he saw off the challenge of Dave Nash in the race to become ZRU vice-president (South).
But it is the avoidance of the serious threat of a World Rugby ban that left the ZRU a relieved lot and chief executive Chiutare acknowledged as much.
Rugby Africa vice-president David Gilbert and World Rugby representative Steph Nel observed the proceedings at the special elective general meeting and endorsed the process.
Gilbert, however, revealed that Zimbabwe were on the brink as both World Rugby and Rugby Africa were seriously mulling a suspension of the country as they were not happy with the goings on at the union.
“We from Rugby Africa and from World Rugby have looked at the process in Zimbabwe with great concern because we consider Zimbabwe as a powerhouse of African rugby.
“We are happy with the transparent process (the election) and there was a very strong probability that if elections had not come in a suspension was pending.
“There are a number of African countries that have already been suspended and with the Gold Cup next year Zimbabwe could have missed it through suspension. There is still a long way to go in rectifying a number of administration issues, constitutional issues and I know that World Rugby through Steph will be assisting in that regard,’’ Gilbert said.
Nel wasted no time, getting into a closed door session with the newly elected leadership of Jani, Mtongwiza, Shone as well chief executive Chiutare and general manager Sifiso made.
Chiutare also described as “fruitful and insightful’’ their meeting with the world rugby governing body’s representative.
“It (the meeting went well) it gave me an insight into the thoughts of World Rugby and what he (Nel) thought about our administration . . . he has hope that will get back to our place in rugby,’’ Chiutare said.
Nel revealed that he had been left a very anxious man when Saturday’s meeting appeared to stall over the failure by the delegates to agree on the interpretation of some clauses in the union’s constitution including the one on proxy votes.
But after the indaba was adjourned as legal advice was sought, the proceedings resumed and then successfully concluded without any further glitches.
“I was very anxious when the meeting had to be adjourned but I congratulate the new president and his two vice-presidents and I think of all the elected presidents you (Jani) have a very difficult task to turn the ship around and I will be available to assist the presidency and the secretariat,’’ Nel said.
Nel is no stranger to Zimbabwe having been dispatched to the country by World Rugby in 2013 when the international body was investigating alleged misuse of funds and improper administration at the union.
At that time World Rugby also withheld their grant to the ZRU but if indications from Nel’s meeting with the Jani management are anything to go by, then those darks days will not be revisiting Zimbabwe.
Jani’s new lieutenants Mtongwiza and Shone pledged to immediately put shoulders to the wheel and drive the programmes that had stalled at ZRU especially development and the Sables brand.
“I am truly excited and happy to come back and serve the game.
“It’s not going to be easy but I am not new to this game. I was involved with the Sables and was instrumental in our moving from number 55 to 26 in the World when we won the Africa Cup and we need to get back to those days.
“Next year we have to qualify for the World Cup and we need to win the Africa Gold Cup and we have the potential to do that and we think it is a matter if time,’’ Mtongwizo said.
Shone said he was hopeful that the union could chart new waters given the successful staging of elections, as there was strong aversion to a Sports Commission-appointed leadership.
“The ship is in turbulent waters and we need to turn it around and we have a challenge to work hard.
“I am happy with the team that has been elected because we have passionate and experienced people and the work starts now with special emphasis on development, the Sables and Rugby Sevens World Cup squad,” Shone said.
Shone also urged those who had contested and lost the elections to remain committed to the game and help their management in the development of the sport.
“To the guys that lost the elections it would be good for them to be involved in the development of the game and for instance due to the World Cup commitments we would need their experience and we will need to spread the game across the country,’’ Shone said.