Oh, that question again! To mix politics with sport or not, and what good does it do to either of them?
The stand taken by the ICC to save the savage Mugabe’s Zimbabwe from being expelled from the international cricketing fraternity is something that may be easy to understand and explain. But, is it desirable and justified? And shouldn’t India, which never loses an opportunity to flex its financial clout to ride roughshod over many cricketing decisions, be the last country to say politics and sport never go together?
The ethics of sporting boycotts and sanctions to force a political regime to mend its ways has been debated endlessly and most of the time, the conclusion has been that it does not serve any purpose. Yet, the question remains and should we condone what the ruthless Mugabe has done to his country? Or the financial bungling the Zimbabwean cricketing head and a Mugabe man, Peter Chingoka, has been accused of?
In the 2003 World Cup, when England refused to travel to Zimbabwe and forfeited its matches played there, many English journalists too, out of sheer conviction, decided not to report any matches from that country. When Rob Stein, a cricketing iconoclast from England and a man willing to stand up for his beliefs, no matter what the consequences, sought my views on the subject, I had no clear cut answers.
Like many who had admired Mugabe’s fight against the brutal White Rhodesian regime, I had thought that the White world was exaggerating tales of suppression and misery emanating from Zimbabwe. But spending a few days in Harare, where India played a match, made me realise that what was being said was not wrong. A hundred US dollars fetched us nearly a lakh in local currency but it was worth nothing as each meal would cost us over 25,000 Zimbabwean dollars. We would give tips in thousands and wonder how the man on the street was surviving on a monthly average income of around 25,000 dollars.
It was not difficult to find out that no one was happy, even the vast majority of Black people. The phone in the hotel room would never cease to ring the whole night and desperate female voices would proposition you, even willing to jump into your bed for just a single US dollar. Any voice of dissent against Mugabe and the rigged election was silenced forever. But for us, Harare was a turning point in India’s World Cup fortunes and made us forget the human misery of people living in a foreign land.
The question has cropped up again and after reading Mukul Kesavan’s thought provoking article in Cricinfo, my memory got dusted and made me realise that India, who were at the forefront of cricketing sanctions against South Africa when they were practising Apartheid, had no right to sell its conscience for a few votes more.
When even Nelson Mandela and his South Africa have turned against Mugabe and his cricketing regime, India should have made the right choice.
The right choice even in the best of times is hard to make, more so in our times, where the world seems to run on only commercial interests.
And to have expected the Indian Board to take a “moral” stand would have been akin to George Bush hanging himself for his crimes against the Iraqi people.