IN one of world sport’s most depressing articles this week, the accompanying picture is that of an London Irish supporter proudly brandishing his beloved team’s flag, alongside national flags of the club players’ countries of origin.
English Premiership club London Irish, formed 125 years ago in England by an expatriate community from Ireland, is a fiercely proud rugby club. It is in fact more than a club, but an attitude, and a way of life.
It is a club proud of its origins, and its diversity. This is what makes this particular picture of this fan special, and iconic.
Of course, in this picture, the cross of St George’s, for the English players, is clearly visible.
In between you can see the flag of Argentina, for London Irish’s hooker Ignacio Ruiz.
Then the more prominent one in the picture is the Zimbabwean flag, representing Lovejoy Chawatama.
The story in The Guardian, by Gerard Meagher, is about how “London Irish’s demise should terrify those in rugby’s corridors of power.”
Its an insightful piece, by Meagher, which highlights how a proud 125-year-old has been suspended from the England’s top-flight due to financial instability.
This week, London Irish was thrown out of the Gallagher Premiership due to a dire financial situation. It is the third time in eight months that this has happened to a Premiership club, though for slightly different reasons but all related to money.
Worcester Warriors, one of the three clubs, recently had Zimbabwean-born players -Marco Mama and Farai Mudariki.
For Warriors, Mudariki is now plying his his trade in France, and Mama retired. Both are former Zimbabwe youth internationals.
As for Irish, the big prop Chawatama is now jobless, alongside several other teammates. Although the ex-Watershed schoolboy is on the radar of Bristol Bears, following the demise of Irish — a club established in 1898 by Irish workers and students — the tale of London Irish is a reflection of world rugby in today’s post-Covid era.
If they are feeling the heat in this way in England, the birthplace of rugby, spare a thought for us in these parts of the world.
Take, for example, young Tino Rusike.
The Prince Edward schoolboy, by Zimbabwean standards, does not come from a poor family. But he needs some help to fulfil the dream of his young career.
Growing up in the Avenues, he attended the nearby PE in the capital city, Harare. Tino has been selected into Zimbabwe’s squad for the prestigious Craven Week in South Africa, the world’s biggest schoolboy tournament.
But the problem is that the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) is still negotiating its sponsorship renewal deal with an insurance corporate giant. Down in South Africa, Coca Cola has exited Craven Week, which means even the South African provinces that take part in this event now need to dig deep into their coffers.
So Tino has launched a GoFundMe drive, to raise US$3 000 so that he can go to Craven Week. This is pretty much what every player in the Zimbabwe squad needs, but of course others are more privileged.
Tino is a delightfully gifted young player — a flyhalf, inside-centre and fullback. But when such talent has to pay himself to play the game he loves, do not be so shocked when a proud 125-year-old professional club in the UK is thrown out of a league because it has no money.