Tunisia rugby chiefs have accused Zimbabwe’s delegation of “unethical actions” after players slept on streets prior to a World Cup qualifier.
Pictures posted on social media showed Zimbabwe players on the pavements in Tunisia prior to Saturday’s match against their hosts in Beja.
The Zimbabwe party were left furious at what they felt was a poor standard of hotel accommodation, while also claiming they had experienced a six-hour airport delay over visa issues after arriving in Tunisia.
But the Tunisian Rugby Federation has hit back, stating: “The Tunisian Rugby Federation expresses its deep regret for this unfortunate event, and strongly deplores the anti-sports and unethical actions of the Zimbabwean delegation, which do not reflect the strong ties of friendship between the two countries.”
A strongly-worded statement addressed specifically the hotel and visa matters. “It is important to note that the delegation of Zimbabwe started complaining as soon as they arrived at Tunis Carthage airport,” it read.
“Indeed, the team manager refused to pay the entry visa fees on Tunisian territories of 60 dinars per person (around £17) on the pretext that he did not have the amount requested, knowing the Tunisian Federation had previously notified Rugby Africa informing them on all these procedures that go beyond the prerogatives of the union.
“Nevertheless, the head of the delegation persisted in not paying these fees, which caused a long wait for the members of the delegation and a four-hour delay.
“It was necessary to contact the chief executive of Rugby Africa, who spoke by telephone with the head of the Zimbabwe delegation, who subsequently agreed to pay the invoice of the visa fees.
“It is important to note that these visa procedures are common between African countries.
“After a lunch offered by the Tunisian Federation to its guests, an air-conditioned bus transfer was ensured for members of the Zimbabwe delegation to the city of Beja.
“Around 2300, the head of the Zimbabwean delegation expressed reservations about the state of the bathroom in one of the rooms, the lack of a swimming pool and the low internet speed. So, he started talking about leaving the hotel on the pretext that it was not decent enough for his team.
“The quick intervention of the president and three members of the organising committee was not enough to calm him down and convince him to spend the rest of the night at the hotel, ensuring that he found solutions the next morning with the possibility to change hotels.
“Instead, he asked all the members of the delegation to take out their luggage, leave the hotel and spend the night outside on the ground.
“At 0630, and after the efforts and interventions of the organising committee and members of the Tunisian Federation, the Zimbabwe team was transferred to another hotel, where they expressed their satisfaction with an apology to the chairman of the organising committee.”
Rugby Africa and the Tunisian Rugby Federation earlier offered “sincere apologies” to the Zimbabwe delegation.
Saturday’s game is part of Africa’s Rugby Gold Cup competition, with Rugby Africa responsible for the fixtures.
In an earlier joint statement issued with the Tunisia Rugby Federation, Rugby Africa said: “We would like to reassure the Zimbabwean Ministry of Sports, Zimbabwe Rugby Union and all partners and fans that the situation was addressed immediately, and an acceptable solution has been found.
“This [situation] does not reflect the standards of the Rugby Africa Gold Cup competition and we sincerely regret any prejudice caused.”
Six African countries – Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya and Uganda – remain in the qualifying picture for next year’s World Cup in Japan.
Namibia are firm favourites to progress automatically from current qualifying, while the eventual runner-up will go into a qualification repechage later this year.