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Zimbabwe & the cricketing dilemma

If politics is indeed the art of the possible then the Indian board is in perfect position to do what the cricket world wants it to — take a strong stand on Zimbabwe, writes Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Jun 28, 2008 00:33 IST
Anand Vasu

If politics is indeed the art of the possible then the Indian board is in perfect position to do what the cricket world wants it to — take a strong stand on Zimbabwe and support a move to downgrade them from full member status.

South Africa, Zimbabwe’s most staunch backers, have severed ties with them and David Morgan, former president of the England and Wales Cricket Board and president-elect of the International Cricket Council now, is spearheading a campaign to take a hard look at Zimbabwe.

There’s no disputing the fact that the Zimbabwe Cricket Union is in tatters. Its team does not play Test cricket at the moment and they merely make up the numbers in ODIs.

Their domestic structure is non-existent and in the last few years, their best cricketers have been forced out of the system, some even out of the country. But that is not why Morgan is seeking to have Zimbabwe’s status revisited.

Morgan is arguing that it has now become impossible to play cricket in Zimbabwe given their political situation, with human rights abuses the Robert Mugabe-led Zanu PF party allegedly perpetrating on its own people.

But the ICC board decided a year ago that “politics and sport should not mix,” and Morgan has admitted that it will take a major shift on the part of the members to facilitate strong action on Zimbabwe.

For the ICC to move decisively on Zimbabwe, India must come on board. Otherwise, the Asian votes will go with the BCCI and majority won’t be possible.

Why the BCCI should be the first board to take this decision — England and Australia have previously cancelled tours of Zimbabwe, but only on the instruction of their respective governments — Morgan though has not explained.

What queers the pitch further is the fact that Sharad Pawar received five votes to Morgan’s five when the two went head-to-head for the ICC presidency, and the only non-Asian vote that the Indian received was Zimbabwe’s.

But now, with cricket’s financial muscle firmly under the BCCI’s thumb, post IPL, the value of Zimbabwe’s vote has diminished.

“I don’t know why this has come up again now. We don’t have anything to do with the political situation in Zimbabwe and we have always said that cricket and politics should not mix,” a BCCI official told HT.

Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president-elect, said he could not comment before the ICC meeting in Dubai on July 2 and 3, where Zimbabwe will be a major issue.

However, claims that sport and politics should not mix hardly cuts ice because in reality they plainly do, nowhere more than in India, and even in this scenario politics of a different kind is being played.

The real questions the BCCI will be asking at the ICC table, is just why they should support this move on Zimbabwe. Or more bluntly, just what will Morgan and his friends, be willing to do for the BCCI in the future, should they decide to leave old allies Zimbabwe in the lurch.

The simple argument is that the BCCI should just do the right thing, for with power comes responsibility, and Morgan has subtly suggested as much. But there are two problems here.

Firstly, if the ICC was to go after Zimbabwe cricket for its political problems, then what will happen of their plans to take cricket to China and USA, one country with a woeful human rights record at home and another which holds hundreds indefinitely without any rights whatsoever at an off-shore detention centre?

Secondly, Morgan’s taking the moral high ground is a touch disingenuous, for the ECB has made its move only after receiving a letter from their Culture, Media and Sport secretary, thereby safeguarding them from the $2 million fine that the ICC could have levied had they unilaterally snapped ties with Zimbabwe.

If the cost of acting on the Zimbabwe issue was $2 million for ECB, what will be the BCCI’s price?