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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Australia not to tour Zimbabwe

[Also posted at Casting a short shadow]

The Australian government has forbidden the Australian cricket team to tour Zimbabwe as long as President Mugabe remains in power according to Foreign Minister Downer. On today's Insiders Prime Minister Howard elaborated:

...the Government, through the Foreign Minister, has written to the organisation, Cricket Australia, instructing that the tour not go ahead. We don't do this lightly, but we are convinced that for the tour to go ahead there would be an enormous propaganda boost for the Mugabe regime. The Mugabe regime at present is behaving like the Gestapo towards its political opponents, the living standards of the country are probably the lowest of any in the world, you have an absolutely unbelievable rate of inflation, and I have no doubt that if this tour goes ahead it will be an enormous boost to this grubby dictator, and whilst it pains me both as a cricket lover and as somebody who generally believes that these things should be left to sporting organisations to head a Government that is giving an instruction and is willing to enforce that instruction if necessary, although all of that pains me, I don't think we have any alternative.

Although others, eg Tim Lane in The Age , have pointed out some problems of sporting boycotts I think they fail to see that there are two aspects of this situation: the political context and the standard of cricket in Zimbabwe. Mr Howard has graphically, though aptly, summed up the scale of the first. True, other countries have suboptimal human rights records but most of them are at least able to feed their people and have not regressed in the last decade or so. As for the second, Zimbabwe cricket, never a strong international competitor, has suffered because most if not all of the small number of talented cricketers have left the country. For all the huffing and puffing from the international and some national authorities about breach of contracts et al (some of it echoed by Cricket Australia) it seems clear to me, as it does to commentators such as Greg Baum in yesterday's Age and Gideon Haigh on this morning's Offsiders , that the Zimbabwe cricket authorities by their own actions in purging both officials and players have made cricket in their own country dysfunctional.

The ICC's initial response delivered by CEO Malcolm Speed is predictably bland:

It is unfortunate for Zimbabwe's cricketers and supporters, all of whom need exposure to top-quality cricket in order to develop as players and to encourage future generations to take up the sport...From an ICC perspective, we will work with Zimbabwe Cricket and our members to try to ensure the game there gets the support it needs in order to continue at this difficult time.

What is the ICC doing about the report, by Martin Williamson on Cricinfo , that the Zimbabwean authorities are unable to provide up to date and accurate scorecards of the major matches played in the country?

Until this year, despite increasing reporting restrictions, the Zimbabwe board, aided by dedicated volunteers, has always supplied scorecards of first-class and List A matches to the media. But many of the old statisticians have been driven away, while others have been ostracised by the board.

Last year there were increasing problems with the accuracy of the data, and often queries had to be flagged with ZC when cards did not add up or data was missing. These were almost always resolved. However, this year ZC has failed to supply any data, even to its domestic media or on its own website, which is increasingly inaccessible and which has not been updated for several weeks.

No cards have been provided for Faithwear Cup matches, the country's List A competition, which took place more than five weeks ago. A source close to the board said that it was unlikely that they would be made available as in some instances the cards had been lost, while in others the data was so poor as to be almost unusable. "Releasing them will be more that embarrassing," he admitted.

The BBC quotes the reaction of the Zimbabwean ambassador (High Commissioner?) to Australia.

Zimbabwe's ambassador to Australia, Stephen Chiketa, said last week that politics had no place in sport and that banning the tour would hurt the development of cricket in his country.

"You have young players in Zimbabwe who want to emulate great cricket players in Australia," he told Australia's Seven television network.

"Take your politics somewhere else."

This is, of course, humbug, since the Zimbabwe government has, by politicising almost every aspect of life, weakened the country's cricket to the extent that any game between its national team and Australia's will be so one sided as to be hardly worth counting as a genuine international contest. This applies no matter where the games are played: Zimbabwe, Australia or, as has been mooted today, in a neutral country.




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