Posted by: nestaquin | April 10, 2008

No Time for Games

The promised review of the hastily arranged and undoubtedly entertaining Pakistan – Bangladesh ODI series is regrettably on the back burner as are a few words on the new Cricket Australia contracts finalised late yesterday. Commitments, responsibilities and a lurking, altered, last minute arrangement have unfortunately prevented its creation. Instead, for your reading pleasure 99.94 has scoured the archives and presents an award winning essay from August 2007. In light of the continuing oppression in Zimbabwe and the decision to abort the Pakistan tour it is evident that the article’s underlying themes still resonate with a lamentable relevance.

No Time for Games

During the cold and wet winter of 1971, Sir Donald Bradman and newly appointed Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell held an extraordinary and historic press conference in Adelaide. The meeting was held to communicate to the world that Australian cricket was withdrawing its invitation to South Africa for the coming summer’s tour.

The reasons given were simple and from the heart. Chappell, Bradman and many of their contemporaries were appalled by apartheid. They were frustrated in particular with the Australian Government’s refusal to impose trade sanctions on the racist regime. The government had been lobbied and pressured by cricketers for near on a decade.

The movement was led coherently by Richie Benaud who returned from his first tour of South Africa in 1958 disturbed by what he had witnessed. Bradman in his prepared speech said “The feeble government reaction to this abhorrent regime is despicable. Cricket is the face of this young nation and not for the first time we will stand as one and try by whatever means possible to make a difference”.

It took a further six years before the rest of the Commonwealth fell into line. At the CHOGM conference at Gleneagles in 1977 it was finally agreed that the nations involved would discourage sporting ties with the apartheid regime as part of a wider campaign against racism. Australia and the Caribbean nations wanted an outright ban but the other Commonwealth countries led by Great Britain and supported curiously by many African members were more comfortable with the weak and malleable verb, discourage.

Seventeen years passed but eventually the hideous apartheid regime was toppled. It took longer than a quarter century to achieve but eventually the compassionate stone that Benaud through into the geopolitical pond generated a wave that swamped and defeated the inhumanity of European supremacism in South Africa.

You would think that after such a long struggle lessons would have been learned, not only by the citizens of the Southern continent but by members of all nations.

Apparently not.

Just a fortnight ago, at the same time that the victorious Australian cricket team returned with the gleaming and golden World Cup trophy, the United Nations allowed Zimbabwe to be elected to head the UN’s commission on Sustainable Development.

Two days later Zimbabwean opposition activist Sekai Holland arrived at Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith airport in a wheelchair to be treated for injuries sustained in a brutal police beating.

She was scathing in her attack on the Mugabe regime and lifted her shirt to show the dark purple bruising that several untreated broken ribs had caused. She also was nursing a broken wrist and leg. Fortunately for the 63 year old grandmother, her Australian husband with the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs were able to aid her getaway in an air ambulance whilst under house arrest in Harare. It has been reported that Zimbabwean President Mugabe was furious at Sekai’s escape.

With the World Cup back on the dry, red earth of the Australian continent and the players in the news, it was inevitable that the media would again ask questions about Australia’s next Zimbabwean tour. It didn’t take long.

In the very first public presentation of the glistening trophy a reporter asked Ricky Ponting if he was comfortable about touring Zimbabwe in September for three one day internationals. Punter in his best diplomatic performance to date emphatically said, “No, I am not comfortable.” and the celebrating green and gold throng fell silent and under a cloudless sky a sombre tone descended. Ricky ever perceptive, noticed this, flashed his mischievous grin and retorted, ‘On second thoughts mate I’d rather play golf’. The crowd began talking and laughing again but the issue of Zimbabwe and Australian collective cricketing morality was not easily dismissed.

The future consequence of Australia’s finest filling Mugabe’s pockets with gold quickly became a major concern. The players were badgered about their views and Matthew Hayden’s thoughts were typical. He said that when Australia last visited Zimbabwe in 2004 he thought about boycotting with Stuart MacGill. “I was seriously considering my position this time, as to whether I would go if the tour went ahead.”

“I considered not going last time but went in the end. I now regret it. This time I was considering it a lot more heavily. I think this time it could have been a case of once bitten, twice shy. While I felt our safety was compromised a bit, I just felt compromised in general. The whole tour became a farce.”

With the players concerns now well known the spotlight turned to Cricket Australia, the governing body of Australian cricket. Under pressure the CEO James Sutherland threw up his arms in despair at being continually questioned about the morality of touring Zimbabwe.

“We are not a political organisation. That doesn’t for one moment suggest that we don’t operate oblivious to issues that are going on in those parts of the world, but we don’t have a mandate to be making decisions on those grounds.’

He then promptly put the problem neatly in the foyer of the ICC’s offices in Dubai.

“If we do not tour, the ICC under current contracts in relation to the Future Tours Programme, have the authority to levy a fine of 2.4 million dollars onto Cricket Australia that would be paid indirectly to the Zimbabwean Cricket Union.”

Whilst Malcolm Speed and his cronies prepared their abysmal response to the moral challenge that confronted them, private talks between Cricket Australia and the Federal government were taking place. Initially the Prime Minister announced that the Treasury would pay the fine but had second thoughts when reminded that the cash would have little chance of filtering through to Zimbabwe cricket and would only enhance the regime’s bank balance.

In an election year with his government hanging on by its fingernails, the Machiavellian mind of the Prime Minister soon turned this moral dilemma to his political advantage.

Government lawyers were dispatched to Dubai to find a loophole. They reported back that indeed there was a loophole in the process that allows an exemption for any team banned from touring by their sovereign government, a clause that was necessitated by India and Pakistan’s stand-off during the 1980s and 1990s.

Last weekend the Australian Prime Minister traveled without entourage to seek counsel from Ricky Ponting on this sordid affair. While Ricky’s gorgeous wife Rhianna prepared a sumptuous seafood lunch, the PM and Punter discussed the repercussions of not abiding by the ICC’s amoral agenda. On national television the next morning the Prime Minister announced that with Ricky Ponting’s blessing, during the next parliamentary session, legislation will be introduced prohibiting Australian cricketers from playing against Zimbabwe in September.

This sets what may become a dangerous precedent but in light of the ICC’s refusal to forfeit the fine, the Australian populace were left with little choice. If the cricketers toured, Mugabe pockets the funds. If they do not, the ICC would effectively act as Mugabe’s agent and he still gets the cash. In legislating against the tour Mugabe gets nothing except more international condemnation and the besieged Australian government can pretend it has a moral conscience.

The people now expect the Australian Parliament to also introduce legislation in regards to trade sanctions and humanitarian aid distribution in Zimbabwe. The opposition have already stated that they will enact such legislation if given office later this year.

In an election year the government has little choice but to follow suit.

Of course, Australia’s refusal to tour Zimbabwe will make little difference in the short term to the citizens of that country. But once again the Australian cricketing community has had to make a stand because the leaders of more powerful nations will not. History indicates that this small protest is the belated beginning of the end for Mugabe and his sycophantic minions.

Robert Mugabe is a cunning, cold, calculating dictator, and is it not time that the international community stopped allowing this thuggish tyrant to play us off, nation against nation, culture against culture, until the core of the issue – Mugabe’s loathsome regime – is lost in the bickering?

The oft-misunderstood Ponting at today’s press conference stated, “I understand that no government in the world has a perfect record on human rights but Zimbabwe at the moment is beyond the pale. As far as this situation is concerned, I’m comfortable that the Australian government has taken the responsibility for making international affairs decisions on behalf of the country. As captain of Australia I’ve never had a problem playing against international cricketers from Zimbabwe. Hopefully the board can arrange for us to play them at a neutral venue.”

It took 40 years for Benaud’s dream of equal rights for all to be enacted in South Africa. I pray as do many of my compatriots, that it takes a lot less time to emancipate the dispossessed people of it’s impoverished northern neighbour.

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Responses

  1. The end may be in sight for Muggers and ZANU PF… we can but hope that when it comes, it is quick and decisive.

  2. Ponting has never been a ‘party man’ not even for Cricket AU, much less any political party of any hue. Ponting, amazingly, for any cricketer of any nationality was able to hold the former Prime Minister of AU to account ( even to ransom ) in getting his point re Zimbabwe, across, to the barely supressed delight of the AU cricket public . Hardly a matter of ‘holding a party line’.

    Luckily, AU has the Players Association to speak for them, which takes that onus away from any current AU captain, which is precisely what and why it was formed to do. Only an insufficient enquiry into first causes would come up with the ‘Ponting as a party man’ line.

    Apropos the Players Association, Andrew Symons is the current spokesperson there and he feels quite able to speak openly and freely, despite the shower of criticism ( mainly from the English press) that falls upon him with monotonous regularity, it doesn’t seem to deter Andrew in the slightest. If anything, he merely escalates and expands on his platform as his brief from the Players Association obligates him to do.

    There may indeed be very few of todays cricket stars speaking openly, on the many matters afflicting cricket today, but that may be more a case of apathy than ability. Thankfully, Ponting , and by extension, Symonds, isn’t either of them. Or McGill , for that matter.

  3. Great article nestaquin, I remember these events unfolding as was quite proud when ‘lil Johnny banned the tour. I knew it was a vote grab of course, but still the right thing was done.

    Just one point on the article – Sekai Holland is a MDC activist – the opposition leader is Morgan Tsvangirai

  4. Thanks Moses I’ve amended that error so it now reads “opposition activist”.

  5. Hi Nesta. First time I’ve seen your blog (via link from the Guardian). Many thanks for the informative and timely article. I did not know about Australian cricket’s role in getting apartheid placed on the political agenda as I was a very, very young Londoner at the time.
    Having admired Mr Benaud ever since I first watched Test Match Special on TV, it is gratifying to read of him (with Sir Don and Mr Chappell) taking such a strong stance here.
    I’d love to see Zimbabwe welcomed back to the league of cricket-playing nations… sooner rather than later, hopefully.
    Thanks again for your excellent report.


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