The Zimbabwe’s national rugby league, which was prematurely abandoned in 2014 due to financial constraints, is set to return this year.
Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) president, Aaron Jani, this week told Business Times that the country’s rugby governing body has taken a huge step towards reviving the country’s national rugby league after signing sponsorship deals with three corporate sponsors out of the targeted six. The league will see six teams battling it out in what promises to be an exciting treat for rugby fans across the country, Jani disclosed.
The return of the national clubs competition, which has been one of the biggest challenges confronting the ZRU, will enhance competition among clubs and also produce quality players for national teams.
Business Times can reveal that this week, the ZRU board met in the capital to finalise the issue.
“Definitely there will be a six team national rugby team league from this year. We had a meeting this week [on Monday] to finalise on the issue,” ZRU president Aaron Jani told Business Times.
The return of the rugby is a feather in the cap for the Jani administration which came into office in 2017. Asked when the proposed league will kick off, Jani, who was capped 30 times by Zimbabwe’s flagship senior national rugby side, the Sables, said: “We are just waiting for a response from the continent’s administrative body for the sport, Rugby Africa, so that we don’t clash on our dates. We also waiting for a response from SuperSport rugby Challenge, which normally start in April or May there about.
We wrote to them [SuperSport Challenge] with the intention to participate in that challenge. So, we want to schedule our fixtures in a manner that doesn’t clash with them in the event that we get the nod to participate (in the SuperSport Challenge),” he added.
After the national rugby league collapsed in 2014, club rugby had been decentralised into two regions namely the Northern and the Southern.
But, clubs, who have been under severe economic pressure, have been funding themselves to fulfill fixtures. The establishment of a national league with corporate sponsors will come as a huge relief for clubs which will be absorbed into the proposed league as they have been teetering on the brink and have been struggling to fulfil some of their matches due to financial constraints.
Sportivo, as Harare Sports Club are affectionately known, won the Northern region rugby league last year, ending Old Georgians’ dominance in the region.
Old Georgians have been the most decorated team in the Northern region, winning the league championship title in the two previous rugby seasons. But, the Daniel Hondocoached Sportivo, ended last year’s rugby season unbeaten, beating Old Georgians to the title.
Bulawayo-based rugby outfit, Matabeleland Warriors, won the 2018 Southern region league.
Jani told Business Times that ZRU has changed the financial and commercial sponsorship model due to worsening economic conditions.
The new model adopted by ZRU will see a corporate adopting an individual club instead of having one title sponsor looking after all the teams in the top flight league.
“Due to prevailing (worsening) economic situation, we didn’t go that route (one title sponsor), where one company will sponsor everything for all the teams in the league,” Jani disclosed.
“We have instead approached one sponsor to look after an individual team, meaning we will have six sponsors, one for each team. So far, we have secured three sponsors and we are finalising with the other three.”
Jani, however, declined to reveal the identities of the already secured sponsors saying: “We will call for a press conference to launch the league and the sponsors.”
Asked which six teams will participate in the proposed national rugby league, Jani did not offer any specifics saying: “I can’t reveal their identities now because we need to present the proposed teams to our board, which is meeting next month. We need to get their approval first before we can go public to announce the teams which will participate in the national league.”
Although, Jani refused to disclose the names of the clubs, well-placed sources at the ZRU told Business Times that top seeded teams from the Northern and Southern regions in terms of last season performance will make it into the proposed league