(Public domain image.)

Zimbabwe rugby team sleeps on street in Tunisia

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Rugby’s world governing body has intervened after Zimbabwe’s national team was forced to sleep on the street in Tunisia following problems with accommodation and visas.

World Rugby tweeted that “we are aware of an issue regarding the Zimbabwe team ahead of their Rugby Africa Gold Cup match on Saturday. We have received firm assurances from Rugby Africa that the issue has been quickly and effectively resolved.”

Zimbabwe’s rugby team, nicknamed the Sables, is in Tunisia for a test match in Beja that forms part of the 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign.

The Sables had landed in the North African country on Monday night directly from Kenya, where they narrowly lost 45-36.

The team was initially delayed for almost six hours at the airport in Tunis because it did not have the required 600 euros to pay for visas, and later declined to check into a hotel in Beja which the squad deemed substandard. Players then slept outside the same hotel.

In a joint statement, Rugby Africa and Tunisia Rugby Union said they “would like to express their sincere apologies to the Sables (Zimbabwe) team and management for this unfortunate situation … We would like to reassure the Zimbabwean Ministry of Sports, Zimbabwe Rugby Union and all partners and fans that the situation was addressed immediately, and an acceptable solution has been found. Tunisia Rugby Union took the Sables management to visit another hotel, which was accepted.”

The Rugby Africa Gold Cup is the continent’s premier test rugby competition and the winner this year will automatically qualify for the World Cup in Japan next year.

Zimbabwe hired former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers earlier this year with the aim of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1991. Zimbabwe drew 23-23 with Morocco at home before losing to Kenya.

Many in Zimbabwe, including former sports minister David Coltart, have accused Tunisian authorities of trying to unsettle the Sables ahead of Saturday’s match.

But the Zimbabwe Rugby Union has also faced criticism. It was accused of failing to pay player match fees and allowances, with loose forward Takudzwa Mandiwanza allegedly being heard to claim in a leaked audio recording that De Villiers had to use personal funds to buy the team a meal while they were stranded.

Gerald Mlotswa, head of the national team’s welfare committee, disputed the player’s reported claims.

“I hope that it was just the pure frustration of the situation in Tunisia that promoted his outburst in relation to allowance, and nothing else,” Mlotswa told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “The fact is that players are paid in arrears, like most people. The camp allowances and match fees from the Kenya game were paid on Monday. The camp fees and allowances for Tunisia will be paid the following Monday. It’s that simple.”

Six African countries — Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya and Uganda — remain in the qualifying picture for the World Cup in Japan.

Namibia is firm favourite to progress automatically.

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