Mtongwiza resigns from post

HARARE - Zimbabwe rugby team manager Losson Mtongwiza has resigned from his post over differences with the union’s leadership, which came to a head following publication of racism claims in the game levelled by the long-serving administrator.

Mtongwiza’s tirade against the ZRU, contained in a leaked dossier to the union’s president John Falkenberg, sparked some outrage among the Zimbabwean rugby community. The union has categorically denied the allegations of racism in the association and the game in general.

A cross-section of Zimbabwean rugby followers felt that not only was Mtongwiza least qualified to comment on matters of that nature, but was only speaking out now in order to protect his shaky position as manager following several clashes with players – who before a trip to the Africa Cup in Madagascar last year had petitioned the ZRU demanding the manager’s ouster.

Zimbabwe ended up touring with a weakened squad as a result of the dispute, relinquishing their African title to Kenya, who beat the Sables 29-11 in the final in Antananarivo. 

Despite that setback, Zimbabwe still stands a good chance of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup in England, and the timing of Mtongwiza’s remarks was largely seen as having the likelihood to undermine the dream and spark turmoil at this critical stage in the country’s quest to return to world rugby’s greatest showpiece for the first time in more than two decades.

In tendering his resignation, Mtongwiza told this paper yesterday that he was stepping down in the best interests of the game, adding that it was never his intention to cause damage to a game he has served with passion and distinction for his entire adult life.

“When Zimbabwe qualifies for the World Cup, I will be very happy,” Mtongwiza told the Daily News. “I am a proud Zimbabwean; I obviously want my country to do well. I don’t want to be a stumbling block to that.

“When we qualify I will be happy not only because I am Zimbabwean, but because I was involved in laying that foundation for six years, from where we were in Group C to where we are now, in Group A, and on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup. That makes me proud. No one can take that away from me. I think I have served my sport and country well.”

Mtongwiza said World Cup qualification will significantly change the face of Zimbabwean rugby and see the sport hit an all-time high level in terms of revenue and public interest. 

“Qualification will be the catalyst,” he said.

It’s the thing that will get things started. That’s when the sport can start getting real money. That will be when rugby can claim its rightful place as the number two sport in the country after soccer.”

Mtongwiza has held several posts in rugby at senior level since the 90s. He was player-coach for Harare Sports Club, Harare Province chairman and ZRU vice-president. He also helped Bruce Hobson with the Sevens team in between his two stints as Sables manager.

In his resignation letter to the ZRU yesterday, Mtongwiza restated that he was not driven by selfish motive, and apologised for his actions.

“I have been left with no choice but to publicly respond to a storm that was caused by a leaked letter l sent to John Falkenberg. While the letter was solely written for the purpose of highlighting the split that is happening in the game due to some decisions taken by the union, it has caused an even bigger racial divide. That was never the intention. On the January 31 I requested a meeting with the union executive to discuss,” he wrote.

The issues Mtongwiza wanted tabled were changes made to his contract and laws to do with player eligibility under the SRC Act.

“With hindsight, I realise my mistakes in first writing the letter and then agreeing to sending a letter whose contents I only intended for the receiver to view, interrogate offer a response and guide my signature on the new contract,” added Mtongwiza.

“I accept my mistakes and apologise unreservedly. In my letter I had all the right intentions to stir up a debate that had happened among many black administrators while keeping the conversation within our corridors. I still stand by the contents of my letter and would have wanted to pursue a discussion to find a lasting solution but, with the letter having been leaked and used by someone else to further their own agenda over and above my apology, I choose to retire from all senior rugby with immediate effect including being Chairman of Old Hararians. While this is leaving on a rather sad note I accept my poor judgment and would like to take responsibility for it. It was a huge honour to manage my country and I thank all those that made it possible especially the more that 150 players I have worked with over six years. The fantastic relationship I had with (coach) Brendan Dawson, (assistant) Cyprian Mandenge and (Sables Committee chairman) Bongai Zamchiya I will cherish forever. Now it is the time to give the next best man the job so that our team can qualify for the World Cup.”

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