The Zimbabwe Rugby Union President Aaron was recently given the mandate to lead the Zimbabwe a rugby u ion for the next four years after winning unopposed at the Zimbabwe Rugby Union Elective Annual General Meeting held in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe. Following his election to the helm of the ZRU, he was also elected into the Rugby Africa Executive Committee As a committee member.
Aaron Jani gave ZRU Media an exclusive interview on a number of issues and what his vision is for Zimbabwe Rugby.
A no holds bar interview with the ZRU President.
ZRU Media (ZM): Congratulations on your re-election at the recently held Elective Annual General Meeting?
Aaron Jani (AJ): Thank you, very much.
ZM: What does this mean to you as an individual and Executive?
AJ: It’s a re-affirmation and vindication of the faith the nation has bestowed on me and my Executive. In the short term we have been in office we have managed to convince all our key stakeholders that we can make our Rugby take a corner and we chart a new path towards sustainability and in the medium and long term into prosperity.
In a nutshell it’s the fruits of the hard work we have tried to do and have done as we finished the previous Executive’s term.
ZM: For most of us who do not know who our ZRU President is, Who is Aaron Jani and what has been your journey in Rugby to date.
AJ: I touched my first Rugby Ball in 1985 at Milton High School when l was in Form 1. First term we had the athletics season and l excelled in athletics especially in the sprints distances, the 80m hurdles , 100m and 200m. l was immediately noticed by our Physical Education coach and my Rugby mentor Mike Perigoe who told me to come out and play Rugby in the second school term.
When the second term came, l was drafted into the u13A’s and told to “put my ears back and run”. That was the beginning of my Rugby career.
By the time I was in Form three, l was already in the first team playing with likes of Zimbabwe Rugby Greats like Honeywell Ngurvue Nguruve, Brian Beattie and incumbent Zimbabwe Sables Head Coach Brandon Ori Dawson . During the school holidays l continued to play Rugby at Old Miltonians Club which was of the best Rugby clubs in the country. In the fourth form l earned my Rugby colors and in the same year l was offered two Rugby Scholarships . One to Christian Brothers College Bulawayo and the other to Falcon College. The decision was easy , l picked Christian Brothers College simply because they had a Rugby Tour the following year to England and Ireland . This was to be my first trip of many overseas through rugby.
When l completed my A’levels at CBC l was persuaded to stay in Bulawayo and to join Old Miltonians Club by Freddy Jocks and Lou Corbi . We had an unbeaten run of about nine seasons and contributed at one stage 11 players into the National Sables Team.Old Miltonians then organized me an internship at the Falcon Group of Mines who sent me to the School of Mines to do Mining . This meant l could now go to School full time and play Rugby and still get paid. (All things being equal we need to get back to such a time when Clubs came up with player retention incentives so that we can retain the vast rugby talents our country is endowed with)
In 1991 l was drafted into the Zimbabwe u21 squad by John Devert and we toured Namibia with the likes of Ian Noble. Upon return , a couple of us were drafted into the Zimbabwe National Sables Squad . From then on l played for the Sables until my retirement around 1997.
From 1991 to 1997, We played in the South African second tier competition of the Bankfin Cup. We played two matches a week and the competition was very tough. Soon after retirement l moved into administration, and was Vice President at the ZRU to Bruce Hobson.When l graduated from the Zimbabwe School of Mines , l went to work at Old Nic Mine in Bulawayo as a Shift Boss . I continued with my education and enrolled for a BBA in marketing communication and later an IMM Diploma. In 1996 l moved to Harare as the Area Manager for South African firm Bulk Mining Explosives. In 2000 l resigned and started a business with some friends doing Stock broking , Mining Chemicals and Commodities. This year we celebrate 20 years in Business. I continued to serve rugby in various capacities both at club level and national level.
ZM: Mr President your administrative acumen was realized, recognised and honed when you were the Chairperson of the U20 committee were you and your team went on to clinch the U20 Barthes Trophy consecutively and twice qualifying for the Junior World Trophy. What was the secret behind that success?
AJ: it was mainly through hard work , perseverance from all the people involved with the U20 team set up. Every one put in the hard miles. I chaired the U20 committee and managed to steer the fundraising committee.
During this time we effectively had separation of roles and we dealt with most background matters and left the coaches and managers to deal with the team. This meant that we all specialized and succeeded in our different roles which when brought together became the victorious U20 team. The great team I worked with gave of their time selflessly and the results are there for all to see.
During my tenure as the Chairperson of the U20 committee my main role was to raise financial and other resources for the team, and remove the burden of raising funds from the parents. This meant that every talented young Zimbabwean had the chance and opportunity to Don the Hooped green and white Jersey because of their talents and the coaches preferred choices.
During my time with the U20’s the hallmark of our working relationship was Honest, hardwork and accountability. These key values saw us succeed in successive years in the Barthes U20 trophy and the same boys are the very boys who missed World Cup qualification with the Sables by a whisker in Antananarivo, Madagascar
Through the U20 committee we raised funds for travel and subsistence for both players coaches and management. We also qualified for the Junior World Trophy in Russia and the USA.
ZM: Wow Congratulations on your illustrious career both on and off the field.
AJ: Thank you it’s all a work in progress.
ZM: What is the state of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union and where do you want to see it in 2023?
AJ: Currently we have just come out of the dark hole of debts, thanks mainly to the austerity measures we implemented since coming into office. There is a lot of negativity around our sport code: Rugby and poor standards of rugby plays both on and off the field. We are now slowly re-building and reinforcing the structures that will give us the foundation for future growth and success. There are a number of key indicators that we can check on to measure progress:
1. Our Zimbabwe U20 team must return to the A section of the Barthes Trophy and ultimately the Junior World Trophy
2. The Cheetahs must make core status
3. The women sables must rank in the top 4 of Africa
4. Sables must win the Victoria Cup and the Gold Cup Consistently. We need to win a few more games in the SuperSport Challenge.
5. We must bring back government schools into mainstream Rugby , that’s were our numbers will come from.
ZM: Mr President, are you setting these as the benchmark from which your Presidency must be evaluated and judged.
AJ: Yes indeed. We need to set our goals for the nation and work tirelessly to achieve these. If we fall short, but in the right trajectory we would have done justice to the electorate who have entrusted us with this national treasure , the game of Rugby and the ZRU.
My Executive will work tirelessly to ensure that these core objectives are realized or we are at least on the right path to achieving these. I must hasten to say that this is not a one man job or my executive’s job only. This is our treasure you and me, from the grounds man at the school or sports clubs or Hartsfield to the players, managers administrators, the corporate world and above all the spectators who will spend their hard earned financial resources to grace our various stadia and fields strewn right around the country.
The Senior XV’s league has suffered in the past few seasons as our economy hemorrhages. In the short to medium term we will continue with the Super Six League in 2020 and we are already in the throes of thrashing out a long term sponsorship deal for our leagues.
We have had a great start to the Sevens programme as evidenced by the various leagues and camps held all over the country that culminated in the two Final camps held at the Machinery Stadium which we used as a springboard to select our National Sevens team that went to Chile and Uruguay for the Sevens repechage Challenger Series. Because of the professional way we ran that league we have prospective sponsors who want to run with the Sevens league. We will be finalising these Leagues soon.
The Junior Sables U14, U17 and U19 continue to do well and going forward we will want our Junior teams to also showcase their talents locally by playing other nations here in Zimbabwe.
The ladies game continues to grow in leaps and bounds and we will continue to harness and pool our resources together and grow a competitive ladies league which will cascade to our high performance teams.
Getting all these programmes and projects in place is our means to an end than an end in themselves. We still welcome all progressive and forward thinking views on how we can best make our rugby great again.
ZM: That’s a very ambitious programme you have set your sights on achieving. You spoke of the High performance teams and what you would want to achieve which is great. How do you intend achieving these objectives given our current state of rugby in the country?
AJ: We have set ourselves a number of achievables that we will tirelessly work on and if we achieve these we will only be moving forward in the grand scheme of things. Our short to medium term achievables are the :
1. Introduction of the U20 league so that our competitions are in line with World Rugby. This will also ensure a smoother selection process for the Barthes Trophy plus game time and match fitness.
2. Increasing the player base.
– We will empower Government Schools with training and education
– introduction of the varsity league to capture all the talent from schools
– Armed forces league . We want to increase the teams from one to at least five
– more sevens competitions like the one we had beginning of the year.
3. Participate in the SuperSport Challenge
4. Participate in the Victoria Cup
5. Win the Africa Gold Cup
6. Start incoming and outgoing tours for the Sables with higher ranked teams.
These programmes will see us regaining our rightful status as a rugby powerhouse.
ZM: Mr President, thank you very much for your time and we wish you and your Executive the very best as you start your tenure.
AJ: Thank you.