OLD Georgians Rugby Football Club player-coach Grant Mitchell is worried local rugby could be headed for an exodus of its young talented players due to inactivity in the National Rugby League (NRL).
The NRL recently suspended its fixtures programme at the halfway mark because of financial difficulties after Delta Beverages, who bankrolled the league from 2011- 2013 through their Lion Lager brand, decided not to renew the sponsorship deal this year.
Mitchell, a former national rugby team player and Zimbabwe Rugby Union general manager, said the current inactivity in the NRL had not only affected local clubs, but would further hamper the strides local rugby had made in retaining its young talented players.
“The continued absence of activity in the league has put not only the participating clubs under pressure, but it has also slowed progress down for senior rugby in Zimbabwe,” Mitchel said in an interview with NewsDay Sport yesterday.
“This is the longest period of inactivity in years and rugby is suffering. There is a huge knock-on effect as well. Clubs derive income through gate-takings by hosting matches and they are now few and far between.
“The credibility of the clubs has devalued in the eyes of new talent as they don’t want to play rugby in a league that has no season and we as clubs will struggle to attract the talent. Young talent has already left Zimbabwe to play outside due to the inactivity and a loss of talent reduces the quality of rugby on show locally,” he said.
Old Georgians recently lost young speedster Brandon Boshi, who is now playing in the English National League with Nuneaton RFC.
The Old Hararians trio of Tafadzwa Chitokwindo winger Morgan Vangue, loose forward Tawanda Chowe and lock forward Antipas Kamkwindo recently left for trial stints at German club TV Pforzheim.
Mitchell, who is also the national rugby team’s strength and conditioning coach, said it was increasingly becoming difficult to motivate players to train when there are no matches being played.
“The players suffer tremendously, they simply cannot train indefinitely. Trying to maintain the enthusiasm to train in the hope of playing is a challenging task for the club committees and technical teams. Clubs cannot source sponsorship from corporates as we have neither a scheduled season nor product to sell them.
Unless club rugby is played in a competitive and conducive environment, senior rugby in Zimbabwe will run thin and our national structures will suffer. We are fully aware and appreciative of the efforts being made to attract and secure sponsors, but clubs must play rugby now,” said Mitchell.
With half the games still to be played before the end of the season, the league’s executive, led by its president Noddy Kanyangarara, has reportedly been in negotiations with mobile network provider NetOne in the hope of securing a $50 000 rescue package.
If sponsorship is secured, the money would be used to transport teams and match officials to match venues as well as settle bills for ambulance services.
The league’s financial woes comes barely two months after the national rugby side, Sables, narrowly missed out on qualification for next year’s World Cup because of financial problems.