Forget Toni Kroos at Real Madrid or Steven Gerard at Liverpool. The number 8 jersey belongs to Brooz Wharton, American President Barack Obama’s personal representative to Zimbabwe!
Such was the imagination at the hard fought testimonial challenge match in honor of United States Ambassador Bruce Wharton on Saturday at the Harare International School grounds. The Obama Boys, 2014 champions and log leaders of the Harare Professionals Soccer League (HPSL), were facing the second placed Zim Lawyers, the HPSL champions in 2013. It’s the eighth time both teams have met in four years and the lawyers have dominated the rivalry, winning four times.
However, this time was different. For Tinashe Mundawarara of Zim Lawyers, the encounter was a mere formality to confirm the true identity of the kings of social soccer in Harare, but he did not know what the Obama Boys had in store for him on the day.
Never mind the rivalry and mind games- this time, the two teams united to place value on the American diplomat in the field of play—a team player who used his creativity to engineer movements that resulted in goals for the benefit of the people of Zimbabwe.
“We see you as deserving of a number 8 place in the Zimbabwe national team where you used your creativity to engineer goals for our strikers—business, industry and players in the democratic arena,” said Tsitsi Mutendi of DanT’s Media Private Limited, one of the Obama Boys sponsors.
A replica jersey of the Zimbabwe national soccer team inscribed with the number 8 was a fitting tribute to the American diplomat who took time from his weekend schedules during his tenure in Zimbabwe to attend several of the HPSL clashes involving the Obama Boys.
“It’s a rare gesture and we wanted to thank the U.S. Ambassador for supporting the HPSL through his support for the Obama Boys,” said Tapiwa Mhiko, chairperson of the HPSL. “It looks like a small gesture but it has meant a lot to us over the past three years.” The HPSL is administered with annual subscriptions from the 20 participating teams representing various commercial companies and the non-governmental organizations.
Working with Embassy staff, Ambassador Wharton and DanT’s Media Private Limited have supported the Obama Boys’ participation in the elite Harare Professionals Soccer League. The top American diplomat showed his desire for a strong and healthy Zimbabwe when at the start of the season, he donated a set of uniforms to the team that carried the Mission’s PEFPAR brand slogan, “ZimStrong,” before watching the team win against Star FM. It set the tone for the Obama Boys’ rollercoaster 2015 season, in which they have collected 81 points from 32 matches so far. The team leads the HPSL comfortably by five points with six matches yet to play. Zim Lawyers are second and might be wary of the challenge by newcomers, Mabelreign Sharks, with 70 points from a similar number of matches. The two challengers to the Obama Boys are yet to play each other.
Obama Boys, which has its roots at a road intersection in Alexandra Park where a group of boys played regular plastic soccer, now boasts players who hail from the United States of America, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.
But it was the combination of Zimbabwean players that won the challenge match for the Obama Boys, as the team conjured a late assault convincingly, beating their rivals 2-0 with second half goals from former Zim Lawyers winger Jayson Kalumo and top scorer Douglish Nyangawo.
Ambassador Wharton described the display as “really intense.” “You are role models for young people in Zimbabwe; you are champions,” the U.S. envoy told the players. “I am so honored that you would do this testimonial match for me…I know you put your heart and soul in it,” he stated.
“You have taught me a lot about the value of teamwork. I am really proud that I have been able to play a small part in supporting the Harare Professionals Soccer League and, especially, the Obama Boys — you have inspired me with your excellence and your commitment,” said the U.S. Ambassador.
“I will always remember the honor of having served in Zimbabwe as President Obama’s representative here and the honor to have known you and to have been able to work with you and support you,” said Wharton.
Zim Lawyers controlled the first half of the match featuring the burly managers of both teams—Tinashe Mundawarara of Zim Lawyers and Sizani Weza of Obama Boys. However, that did not affect the high tempo of the match which saw referee Washington Chari sending off three players—two from Zim Lawyers.
This year, Ambassador Wharton is concluding his term as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe. President Obama has nominated Ambassador-designate Harry J. Thomas Jr. to succeed him. – ZimPAS © October 19, 2015