By Gamuchirai Mugadzaweta
SOCCER, widely regarded as the world’s most beautiful game, has a pull factor and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will be no exception.
Five African countries have qualified for the tournament. These are Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco.
Many Africans still have the heartbreak of the 2010 World Cup fresh in their minds.
This was the year they watched in horror as history was about to be made, with Ghana just minutes away from being the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the revered tournament.
The gods of football denied a team built on youngsters still to cut their milk teeth at world stage, with sheer focus and determination.
Unfortunately, the Black Stars of Ghana will be watching the 2018 World Cup on television.
The point is, with proper structures in place, it did not take Ghana weeks or days to gel and be a force of different players plying their trade in Europe and other leagues, but it took years to build.
Carrying the same message home, the just-ended Dairibord Schools Rugby Festival, where there was an exhibition of raw talent from ‘regular’ schools and newcomers stamping their presence at the week-long rugby festival, provided a platform for identifying and nurturing new talent.
The 18th edition of the prestigious tournament saw schools from all provinces coming to battle for the top spot and be rated among the best in schools rugby.
It does not end with the schools rugby but the elevation and build-up starts from schools level, adding to local league and the national teams.
The Zimbabwe Rugby Union presence at the festival bodes well for future plans for the game to improve.
The local league has a large pool to select young promising players from and add to the fading glory of the game in Zimbabwe’s league dominated by Old Hararians and Harare Sports Club.
The gathering of schools at Prince Edward High School, Harare, is a blessing in disguise to the game of rugby in Zimbabwe as it makes it easier for league teams and the national team selectors to fish out the best and promising talent to the benefit of the game.
Selecting players at a tender age and grouping them into age groups helps to build stronger national teams as players gel and understand each other.
In sport, there is telepathic communication and that comes with players who understand each other over a period of time.
Having a junior policy that feeds to clubs and the national level will guarantee quality players and better performance.
Tinashe Gowe of Wise Owl College lamented the lack of efficient clubs and national team junior policy failing to reach all schools and provinces to get the best players and build a strong team.
“We do our part at school level and it pains to see young people with talent roaming the streets after leaving school,” said Gowe.
“If the Rugby Union can create a strong junior policy that reaches schools and colleges, as well as scouting for talent, more sponsors will come through.”
As the girl-child continues to get recognition and her voice heard, the organisers of the festival did not leave the girls behind.
Mbare, Queen Elizabeth, Dzivarasekwa, Domboramwari, Sahumani, Muterere and Girls High School mobilised girls’ teams that took part in the rugby festival.
Regina Katambetambe, Mbare High School girls’ team manager, applauded the continued inclusion of the girl-child to showcase talent and take sport seriously.
“The girls’ teams this time were moved from grounds that not many people like to go and watch, but had an opportunity to grace the Jubilee Field and get cheers from the crazy fans applauding the tackles and tries,” said Katambetambe.
“If Zimbabwe’s rugby is to grow, this is where it all starts from.
“Ladies teams in developed countries have built their teams over a long period hence we need to follow the same procedure and maintain it as well,” she said.
The inclusion of girls teams at the Dairibord Schools Rugby Festival was welcomed by many fans and parents who came to cheer their daughters.
Currently, some of the players who came through schools rugby like Tangai Nemadire are an inspiration to young players who have the sport at heart.
Some players have opted to play for foreign clubs, shunning the local leagues due to different reasons, among them lack of proper sponsorship and remuneration.
Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira opted for a South African citizenship and plays for the Springboks.
His fortunes would have been different if he had continued playing for the Sables or Cheetahs.
Several sportsmen have renounced Zimbabwean citizenship like cricketer Gary Ballance who now plays for England.
Perhaps the way sport is administered in the country leaves a lot to be desired.
While the issue of remuneration also comes into play, very few national teams play at the highest level of sport.
The dream of a rugby player, whether Sevens or Fifteens, is to play in the World Cup and win or be part of the most successful team.
The Sevens side has been struggling to become a core member of the International Rugby Board which guarantees players a year-long contract of playing the game.
However, Zimbabwe continues to fail where it matters the most.
While there are no visible grassroot structures in the game, the gains made at the Dairibord Schools Rugby Festival will go to waste if no follow-up is done going forward. The local rugby union has been dragged in the mud months ago over leadership.
Our local league is not so competitive and fans enjoy matches involving South African teams who visit the country to play.
Something has to be done!