Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
AARON JANI’S election as the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) president has been greeted with a huge sense of optimism by the Zambezi Cheetahs, who will need an environment of stability in the domestic game as they prepare for the Rugby Sevens World Cup in the United States next year. Jani swept to the helm of the troubled union unopposed at a special elective meeting at Prince Edward on Saturday.
The Harare businessman, who had last year lost to Nyararai Sibanda in his earlier bid to lead the union, did not have to undergo the anxious battle of the ballot this time as his rival – Russell Karimazondo – withdrew his candidature shortly before the election got underway.
But if the manner in which the pair of Tungamirai Mashungu and Dave Nash – who were Karimazondo’s running mates for the vice-presidents’ positions were thumped – is anything to go by, then the former Old Georgians and Zimbabwe winger was also destined for a huge defeat to Jani.
Mashungu and Nash lost by identical 9-2 defeats to Losson Mtongwiza and Martin Shone for the right to be vice-president for the North and South respectively.
Despite World Rugby, Rugby Africa and the Sport and Recreation Commission, who observed the election and endorsed the process, Karimazondo has taken to social media to allege an unfair poll. But more importantly for the domestic game that is battling to turn on a new leaf, it was the fulfilment of the constitutional requirement for the union to be led by a duly elected executive that has left this closely knit fraternity with high hopes for a better future.
And that Rugby Africa vice president David Gilbert revealed that Zimbabwe were facing a ban if they had not followed the constitution and held elections, put into perspective the silver lining that Jani’s election cast on the dark cloud that had been hovering on ZRU.
“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 (Nel), will be assisting in that regard,’’ Gilbert said.
Given that Karimazondo did not lodge any official protest with World Rugby, Africa Rugby, Sports Commission or even ZRU chief executive Blessing Chiutare when withdrawing, it has raised eyebrows about the motive of his decision to complain days later by writing to the same world body that had its representative Steph Nel present in the lecture room at Prince Edward on Saturday and circulating that protest letter on social media.
But away from a bid to try and derail the transformation that the ZRU is poised for amid strong indications by World Rugby that they will assist the union, Jani’s ascendency to the presidency of the local body has been welcomed by the Cheetahs, who are looking to resume their World Cup preparations early into the New Year.
It was always going to be difficult for the Cheetahs to fully focus on a World Cup, whose participation could have ended had Zimbabwe been suspended by World Rugby.
Cheetahs’ manager Donald Mangenje said they were now looking forward to work with and get full attention of the union as they prepare to make an impact at the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco.
“I think it’s a good presidium full of years of experience, passion and sound financial backgrounds
“We are optimistic that they will contribute to the Cheetahs cause through fundraising and the recognition that we are a World Cup-bound team that also demands their attention.
“The Cheetahs will regroup at the beginning of the year, starting off with a training camp. A training camp may be held in Harare this December to the advantage of foreign-based players, who are on holiday though,’’ Mangenje said.
Apart from the possibility of holding a camp for the foreign legion this month, the Cheetahs have on their roadmap set three training camps in Pretoria, Harare and Bulawayo between January 13 and May 12.
Sandwiched between those training camps are a host of tournaments which will start in Sun City, South Africa in March and will also include the Uganda tournament on March 16 and the Victoria Falls competition, which has been growing in stature, on March 23.
In April, coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba will then get the first real test of what awaits his men at the World Cup when they feature at the Hong Kong tournament, where Zimbabwe will be playing to qualify for Core status.
The Cheetahs will then play their last tournament prior to the World Cup when they travel to Mauritius on June 23.
While is seems all on course, at least on paper for the Cheetahs, Zimbabwe’s flagship team, the Sables, the bulk of whose players also feature for the sevens side, will be hoping that Jani will act fast to appoint a national coach, who will kick-start the country’s preparations for the Africa Gold Cup, which is serving as the qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.