Zim­bab­wean protest was re­ally just a cry for help

The Rugby Paper - - News | Feature - BRENDAN GAL­LAGHER A weekly look at the game’s other talk­ing points

WHAT to make of this odd story about Zim­babwe sleep­ing rough for a night in Beja ear­lier this week?

Rather than ac­cept the ac­com­mo­da­tion that had been pro­vided by their Tu­nisian hosts ahead of yes­ter­day’s Africa Cup game and World Cup qual­i­fier, the Zim­babwe squad slept on the streets un­til the early morn­ing when they were taken to an­other ho­tel.

As is the way of the mod­ern world they also took pho­tos and tweeted them to let ev­ery­body know about their de­ci­sion and dis­plea­sure with the sit­u­a­tion.

Zim­babwe – hot and both­ered from a long jour­ney from Nairobi via Harare – clearly weren’t im­pressed with the Ho­tel Aladino which ad­mit­tedly re­ceives a rather un­flat­ter­ing one and half stars on Tripad­vi­sor and two and half stars in its 20 Google re­views.

For­mer Spring­bok prop Brian Mu­jati – now help­ing with the coach­ing – posted pictures of a grue­some look­ing bro­ken toi­let in what passed for a bath­room. Af­ter the briefest of team meet­ings the Sables de­cided they would kip al fresco un­til some­thing more to their lik­ing had been ar­ranged.

Ini­tially Tu­nisia apol­o­gised pub­li­cally and pro­fusely – they pride them­selves on their hospi­tal­ity – but on in­ves­ti­gat­ing they quickly changed their tune be­liev­ing they were un­fairly be­ing painted as the bad guys and de­scribed Zim­babwe’s ac­tions as ‘un­eth­i­cal’.

The Tu­nisia Union claim the rest of the ho­tel’s rooms were fine and that Zim­babwe had been in bad form and com­plain­ing from the mo­ment they landed, de­clin­ing at first to pay for their visas – they had been ad­vised about this by email – which sparked a heated row and diplo­matic in­ci­dent.

You have to won­der in pass­ing why Zim­babwe were be­ing housed in Beja in the first place. Yes­ter­day’s game was at the Stade Mustapha Ben Jan­net in the coastal re­sort of Mona­s­tir nearly 230km away. Mona­s­tir boasts a wide range of ex­cel­lent ho­tels, many of them un­der oc­cu­pied or of­fer­ing ex­cel­lent rates since the down turn in the Tu­nisian tourist in­dus­try fol­low­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tack on Sousse beach in 2015.

I stand to be cor­rected but I sus­pect that Zim­babwe’s protest was, at least in part, a gen­eral an­guished cry for help, and per­haps also a vent­ing of ex­treme short-term dis­ap­point­ment.

They had opened up the tour­na­ment by draw­ing a home game against Morocco that they should have won and then lost away to Kenya in the last three min­utes af­ter the bravest of come­backs.

Their World Cup hopes and those of their high-pro­file coach Pi­eter de Vil­liers had all but dis­ap­peared, the lat­est win­dow to grow the game in Zim­babwe slammed shut, and in such cir­cum­stances life on the road very quickly loses its glam­our and ro­mance.

They were look­ing for a de­cent ho­tel, ser­vice­able wifi, a swim­ming pool, a cool­ing breeze off the Medit­er­anean and a cou­ple of days of R&R to res­tore the spir­its be­fore con­cen­trat­ing on the game.

In­stead what they were of­fered came up well short – a hot arid in­land town and the most ba­sic of ac­com­mo­da­tion. The play­ers will have been gut­ted but it’s im­pos­si­ble to con­ceive that some­body in the Zim­babwe Union man­age­ment team didn’t know ex­actly where they were head­ing.

Money, as usual, is prob­a­bly at the root of this one way or an­other.The African Gold Cup is a grand sound­ing ti­tle and a very fine con­cept but, as I out­lined on th­ese pages only last week, there is al­most no money in African rugby which fea­tures a num­ber of ex­tremely poor Fed­er­a­tions and coun­tries. African rugby below South Africa and pos­si­bly Namibia is re­ally strug­gling in ev­ery pos­si­ble re­spect.

Tu­nisia, thrashed 118-0 in their open­ing game to Namibia, are not se­ri­ous con­tenders in this tour­na­ment and there is no real rea­son to sus­pect skull­dug­gery on their part and an at­tempt to un­duly dis­rupt Zim­babwe. A lack of fi­nance is still the most prob­a­ble cause and also hu­man er­ror in tak­ing their eyes off the ball and not en­sur­ing a ho­tel they have used be­fore was up to scratch.

Ev­ery­body, on both sides seemed to be hav­ing a very bad day at the of­fice but at least it made for fiery en­counter yes­ter­day which Tu­nisia won 18-14.

Rough treat­ment: Zim­babwe play­ers sleep on the streets of Beja

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