Zimbabwe’s Sables triumphed over the Simbas of Kenya at a rugby test match held in June. Whilst the victory caused much happiness for fans, there was grumbling about it being hosted on the school grounds at Prince Edward High School (PE).
One fan who queued outside the ground before abandoning the long line to watch the match on TV said afterwards, “I think it’s highly inadequate. It can’t take large numbers. It was overcrowded and chaotic and didn’t make me want to come and support future matches. After all, it is a rugby field meant for schoolboy rugby not international matches.”
PE staff were seen moving benches around for spectators during the match, and there were no proper facilities for match officials. The queue to get in the single entrance was long and slow, and tickets completely sold out. There were large numbers of people forced to stand for the match, and some complained of not being able to see at all. The queues for refreshments were equally frustrating.
There is a general feeling that the lack of an international quality facility in our capital city will affect the reputation of Zimbabwe Rugby. While there is no questioning the quality of the PE grounds for schools rugby, the latest event, which saw more than 4,000 people attend, shows that it is short on capacity for big match crowds.
Zimbabwe Rugby Union Chief Executive, Colleen De Jong, said, “For the Test against Kenya we hosted in excess of 4,000 people, excluding students in uniform. Currently, Prince Edward offers one of the best venues available to Zimbabwe Rugby for the purpose of hosting a Test Match.”
She defended the use of the school grounds further, saying that “Prince Edward School meets the criteria for hosting of international games. There are strict and clear guidelines, protocols, and requirements from World Rugby. The hosting of a test match is monitored and administered in accordance with these requirements. A match commissioner is appointed from the executive of Rugby Africa and in respect of the test versus Kenya, this was Mr David Gilbert, Vice President of Rugby Africa.”
Rumour had it that due to financial constraints, ZRU was using the venue for free and took gate keepings, while PE took away branding rights for hosting the game. De Jong dismissed this saying, “In accordance with Rugby Africa financial protocol, a hosting grant was disbursed for the purposes of hosting a visiting team.” PE headmaster, Dr Sora, also defended hosting the game, saying, “PE’s benefit was not monetary, it is the profile we get as a school and the exposure our students get from watching international matches. Being able to play in a curtain raiser for these games is motivating for our boys. ZRU did not get the venue for free but we have an understanding.”
In the early 90s, national matches in Harare were hosted at the Morris Depot Police grounds, a pitch tailored to rugby before being converted into a soccer ground. Options for today’s matches include Old Hararians Sports Club, Harare Sports Club, and Old Georgian’s, though the latter needs to invest in better facilities to realise such a goal.
The Sports and Recreation Commission of Zimbabwe (SRCZ) is mandated to ensure that there is a Rugby Stadium that can be used to host foreign sides. They were unreachable for comment at the time of going to press.
The next clash is set for this Saturday at 3pm when Zimbabwe meets Tunisia at PE. The curtain raiser is between historic rivals St George’s and Prince Edward. Tickets are $5.
Photo: Lucy Broderick