Sub-continent teams crucial to decision on Zimbabwe

June 26th, 2008 - 5:52 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, Jun 26 (IANS) The sub-continental cricket boards, lead by India, will play a major role in sealing Zimbabwe’s fate when the International Cricket council (ICC) meets next week in Dubai to take a call on suspending the southern African country. World cricket will be keen to know whether the ICC deviates from its traditional approach of political non-alignment or takes a cue from South Africa in adopting a firm stance against Zimbabwe.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) president Norman Arendse Wednesday announced the decision to suspend its bilateral agreements with neighbouring Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) because of the political turmoil in that country.

As was the case in South Africa, where isolation from the international sporting fraternity played such a great role in the sanctions against the country that eventually led to the downfall of apartheid, there are strong views that the same can be achieved in Zimbabwe.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already made it clear that the Zimbabwean team would not be welcome there under the current circumstances, and Australia and New Zealand are expected to side with England in supporting South Africa’s latest move.

But with seven votes needed from among the remaining nine Full Members to oust Zimbabwe, it could well fall on the sub-continental members - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Srilanka - all long-time friends of Zimbabwe, to swing the decision either way.

CSA was the strongest ally of Zimbabwe and Arendse’s decision has forced the ICC to rethink the matter.

Arendse was elected in August last year and faced his first daunting task with growing calls to severe all ties with ZCU. He had resisted then.

But even though the situation then in Zimbabwe was arguably not at the same level as it is now, Arendse had defended a tour to that country by South Africa’s ‘A’ side.

Pressure from its own players prompted CSA to take a tough posture this time.

Robert Mugabe’s violent actions against the opposition MDC have led the party’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to withdraw from a presidential run-off scheduled for Friday, amid world outrage at Mugabe’s determination to continue ruling at all cost after 27 years at the helm.

Mugabe is even running out of favour from former African leader who used to support him.

Proponents of ostracising Zimbabwean cricket until the country returned to democratic rule, just as had been done in South Africa in the apartheid era, argued that there could be no normal sport in a volatile society.

The issue received great prominence even as far back as 2003, when then top Zimbabwean cricketers Henry Olonga and Andy Flower wore black armbands during the World Cup to protest against the death of democracy in their country. The two are now exiled from their home country on risk of imprisonment and torture by Mugabe’s forces if they dared return.

Last year, Arendse wrote in a letter to the daily Cape Argus that the Zimbabwe issue had been debated at the ICC annual meeting.

“Despite initial criticism from countries like Australia, England and New Zealand, after full debate, the Full Member countries of the ICC unanimously agreed to retain Zimbabwe as a Full Member.”

“The Full Member countries also agreed that it is not for the ICC to take up any moral or political stance on any issue in any of the Full Member countries,”

Arendse wrote, adding that CSA would fulfil its obligations to the ICC and would only not do so if instructed by the South African Government not to play in Zimbabwe.

Although the South African government has been silent on the issue so far, strong condemnation of the Zimbabwean situation from ANC President Jacob Zuma has led commentators here to believe that such an instruction, or at least support for the CSA decision, may not be far off.

Arendse Monday again confirmed that CSA would honour its commitments to the ICC in respect of tours, but would suspend its bilateral agreements with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU), which includes development and administrative programmes, as well as Zimbabwean teams participating in CSA domestic competitions.

South Africa’s action has pushed the continued ICC membership onto the agenda for a meeting of the body at its present headquarters in Dubai next week, away from its traditional venue of Lords in London, because ZCU boss Peter Chingoka was refused a visa by Britain.

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