IT was all fun and jubilation at Mutare Sports Club last Saturday for local rugby fans that attended the ‘Go Pink Breast Cancer Awareness’ rugby game-day organised by the Mutare Sports Club (Msc) rugby team.
The bumper crowd was evident that Mutare rugby followers had missed rugby action at the home of rugby in the eastern border city, as they had last attended matches in March just before the Covid-19 national lockdown pronouncements on March 30, 2020. Last week Thursday the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) granted an exemption to allow spectators for some sports codes, on condition that they are fully Covid-19 vaccinated.
The sports codes included Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU), where a maximum of 250 fully vaccinated spectators per venue were allowed to watch the Northern and Southern region tournaments that are being organized independently, while Zimbabwe Cricket was approved of 1000 spectators for the forthcoming ICC One Day International matches between Zimbabwe’s Lady Chevrons and Bangladesh slated from 10 to 15 November and for the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) a maximum of 2000 spectators was sanctioned during the Chibuku Super Cup matches.
Exemption was also granted for Motorsport Zimbabwe for 250 spectators during Harare and Bulawayo circuits as well as the Zimbabwe Equestrian Federation, where 250 spectators were also allowed during equestrian events (horse-riding).
In the statement by SRC, there was a request for standard zoning of the stadia to separate the players, technical staff and enforcement of bio-secure bubble protocols. The bio-secure bubble is a hosting arrangement for sporting events that emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic, under which events are held at a centralized site, often behind closed doors, with strict quarantine and safety protocols in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The curtain raiser for the tournament was a lively clash between the Africa University panthers and a visiting Marondera side. An unstoppable AU squad thumped Marondera 31 -5. The main match pitted the MSC Shumbas and Northern Chiefs (former Old Johanians) from Harare. The hosts who were trailing from the start lost 15-12 to the Harare side.
However, it was the excitement of the crowd that stole the limelight as it was like dogs removed from a leash. Rugby fans could not hide their joy of being at the rugby match where they mix and mingle, enjoy boozing and braaing, not leaving out the opportunity to dress up for the occasion for the fashionista’s and swag addicts, which is usually characteristic at rugby events.
MSC rugby chairman Moss Kapumha said the friendly tournament was a trial run to grease their elbows after 15 months without playing rugby due to the Covid-19 prompted ban on all contact sports last year. “Covid-19 had locked everyone out so when the good news came on 1 September that rugby could resume training, there was a buzz of excitement amongst players. MSC as the rugby flagship in Manicaland we therefore took it upon ourselves to organise games in consultation with ZRU and SRC.
Northern City is the second friendly match played by Msc since rugby got the green-light to resume in September. They hosted Southern City (SC) from Chitungwiza on October 2 in a match where spectators were not allowed due to the Covid-19 regulations then. Msc narrowly won 7-5.
Kapumha added that as MSC rugby administration, knowing that October is the Breast Cancer awareness month, instead of organising marathons and walkathons like most organisations, they decided to organize a rugby game day and combined it with the ‘pink’ colour run theme.
“So locally we chose to partner with Island Hospice to create awareness for Breast Cancer. The day went well beyond our expectation as it was well supported by the community. I believe rugby won on the day, the cancer awareness was lively, and above all, the community that attended had a great time,” said Kapumha.
ZRU chief executive officer Sifiso Made said they will use tournaments instead of the domestic league as previously anticipated.
“There will be no domestic league at the moment but tournaments to get play started. The 7s format will have several tournaments that will aide in selection,” said Made in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Since the beginning of October Harare and Bulawayo provinces kicked off 7s rugby tournaments but with no spectators. It was only last Saturday that fans were allowed to watch selected sports codes at venues.
Made said clubs will foot their own bills but ZRU will always be ready to assist to ensure that rugby tournaments are played in both Northern and Southern regions, and inter -regional tournaments as well.
However, during a Mutare stakeholder visit in May, ZRU president Aaron Jani said the Union would bankroll the return of the Super Six rugby tournament this year introducing a women’s format of the tournament as well. He said ambulances and referee fees will be catered for by ZRU unlike before when the hosting clubs footed the expenses. Jani said a committee would be set up to finalise on the format of the tournament.
The country’s topflight club rugby league has been in dire need of proper endorsement deals for a while now. After making a return in 2016 under ZRU, the Super Six tournament which comprised of Harare Sports Club, Old Georgians, Old Hararians, Old Miltonians, Matabeleland Warriors and Mutare Sports Club, struggled due to limited sponsorship. In 2019 the last return round of the league was not played because of financial challenges by teams that failed to foot travel fixtures.
Although, when Delta Beverage’s Lion Lager brand was the official National Rugby League (NRL) sponsor after signing a three-year sponsorship deal in 2011, which ran upto 2013, there was exciting and competitive rugby experienced. The contract catered for all the travel expenditures of eight teams in the 15s topflight league and also provided new jerseys and training gear each season.
Some of the ‘Go Pink Breast Cancer Awareness’ rugby game-day action in pictures: