The Zimbabwean men’s rugby team arrived on July 2 in Béja, Tunisia, ahead of a Saturday match against the Tunisian national team as part of elimination rounds for the 2019 World Cup. But the Zimbabwean squad received anything but a warm welcome from their hosts – and they ended up spending the night sleeping on the pavement.
Since the morning of Tuesday, July 3, social media in Zimbabwe has been full of photos and videos showing players for the national rugby union team sleeping on the streets, their heads on their suitcases.
This situation occurred just five days before the Zimbabwean team was set to play the Tunisian team in the Africa Gold Cup, a qualifying competition for the Rugby World Cup, which will take place in Japan in July 2019.
"Our national rugby team the Sables are being treated in the most appalling way in Tunisia. They have been forced to sleep on the streets as the accommodation they were provided with is disgusting,” wrote David Coltart, the former Zimbabwean sports minister, in a Facebook post.
"On arrival they spent six hours held up at border and the authorities have taken their passports claiming they need to pay for visas amounting to €600, which they can't pay as they dont have funds… What is the Minister of Sport doing about this? Can our nearest ambassador help?" he wrote.
"Please help our #Zimbabwe national team!", tweeted Trudy Stevenson, the Zimbabwean ambassador to Senegal and the Gambia.
Before Tunisia, the team was in Kenya. Player Takudzwa Mandiwanza told Zimbabwean radio station Capitalk FM that the tour was a “shambles”.
“We have not been paid our daily allowances for our duration in Kenya, including our match fees that we did not receive,” said Mandiwanza. “Now we’re in Tunisia, we were detained at the airport for close to six hours, with no allowances given to us.”
He added that the coach had bought the team food and drinks with his own money.
“The situation is very frustrating and disheartening," Mandiwanza said.
'No intention to destabilise our opponents'
In a statement to ZBC news, the Zimbabwean Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Kazembe Kazembe defended his ministry by saying that each country participating in the competition received a grant from Rugby Africa to host visiting teams.
He said that Zimbabwe had received €70 per person per night to host Morocco.
“Zimbabwe hosted Morocco on the 16th of June, two weeks ago, and the Morocco team was housed at the Cresta Oasis hotel which is a three-star hotel,” Kazembe said. “In addition, we afforded them a luxury air-conditioned bus for their local transportation and would have expected Tunisia Rugby Union to reciprocate in accordance with the Hosting Manual.”
He also said that each hosting nation is responsible for ensuring visiting teams get visas upon arrival, highlighting that Zimbabwe pre-cleared the Moroccan team who “spent less than half an hour at our immigration services in Harare”.
In a statement on July 3, Rugby Africa said that the situation was “addressed immediately, and an acceptable solution has been found this morning.”
"Rugby Africa and Tunisia Rugby Union would like to express their sincere apologies to the Sables team and management for this unfortunate situation. This does not reflect the standards of the Rugby Africa Gold Cup competition and we sincerely regret any prejudice caused,” the statement reads.
"I can assure you that there was absolutely no intention to destabilise our opponents and we will make every possible effort to ensure they have a good preparation ahead of Saturday’s match,” said Khaled Babbou‚ an executive member of Rugby Africa in Tunisia. He also offered apologies on behalf of the Tunisia Rugby Union.
On July 4, however, the Tunisian Rugby Federation (FTR) published a statement denouncing unsportsmanlike behaviour of The Sables. In a document posted on Facebook, they said that the FTR had organised for the visiting team to stay in a “two-star hotel near the field where the match would be played (....) while respecting the tournament manuel and the specifications of (...) Rugby Africa". The FTR also accused the Zimbabwean team of having refused to pay visa fees until a Rugby Africa official intervened.
According to the Tunisian federation, the Zimbabwean team threatened to leave the hotel because of the “state of the bathroom in one of the rooms, the lack of a pool at the hotel and the poor internet connection”. The team refused to spend the night in the hotel before being transferred the next morning to a hotel in Nefza.