Rugby Africa and the Tunisia Rugby Union (TRU) have apologised to Zimbabwe after their players slept on the street in protest at poor accommodation before a Gold Cup fixture against Tunisia. "I can assure you that there was absolutely no intention to destabilise our opponents," said Khaled Babbou, an executive member of both TRU and Rugby Africa
The Zimbabwean rugby team, the Sables, and their managers were in Tunisia for the World Cup qualifier. Their trip was fraught with issues from the moment they arrived in the North African country. First the team was delayed for six hours by airport officials when they could not pay a visa fee of US$23 each for visas that the organisers had assured the Zimbabwean sports ministry would be issued free to the team on their arrival.
When the players finally arrived at their accommodation, they found the hotel unacceptable and chose to sleep on the street in protest. Pictures of the team sleeping on the street beside their luggage were posted on social media by David Coltart, the former Zimbabwean Minister of Sport.
The pictures sparked outrage on social media, which spurred the organisers into action to try and remedy the situation. Rugby Africa said in a statement, "We would like to reassure the Zimbabwean Ministry of Sports, Zimbabwe Rugby Union and all partners and fans that the situation was addressed immediately. An acceptable solution was found this morning."
"Tunisia Rugby Union took the Sables' (Zimbabwe) management to visit another hotel, which was accepted. Rugby Africa and Tunisia Rugby Union would like to express their sincere apologies to the Sables team and management for this unfortunate situation," it added.
To add to these sentiments, Khaled Babbou, an executive member of both TRU and Rugby Africa, said there had been no ill intent. He was quoted by News24 saying, "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 good preparation ahead of Saturday's match."
Unfortunately for the Sables, the Tunisia experience has not been the only negative encounter they have had recently. Zimbabwe's loose forward, Takudzwa Mandiwanza, told the Zimbabwean radio station Capitalk FM that the issues started well ahead of the team's previous match in Nairobi, where they lost 45-36 to Kenya.
"We were not paid our daily allowances for the duration of our stay in Kenya, including our match fees, which we have not received. In Tunisia, we were detained at the airport for close to six hours, with no allowances given to us."
He added that their coach, South African Peter de Villiers, had to pay for their food and drinks out of his own pocket, or they would have had to go without. "We'd be hungry right now. The situation is very frustrating and disheartening," he added.