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An article in today's Age amused me to no end with this particular opening:
"Zimbabwe has attacked as desperate and racist the Howard government's ban on the Australian cricket team touring the strife-torn African nation later this year."
Along with this gem:
"By putting political pressure on their national cricket team not to come to Zimbabwe, the Australian prime minister is flouting United Nations principles on human rights because sporting is a human right which must be respected,"
The Howard government is "desperate", how exactly? It may just be that they are desperate to ensure that Mugabe does not line his pockets with any more of the millions that are paid to his cronies at Zimbabwe Cricket. It may also be that John Howard views the callous and inhumane extinction of scores of opposition supporters in Zimbabwe as a breach of the very "human rights" that the Zimbabwean Minister refers to.
In the relevant context the Australian government's decision to ban its cricketers from touring Zimbabwe is correct and proper. Some argue that there are grounds for labelling the decision 'convenient' and 'selective' when the various tours to a dictator-controlled Pakistan are do not attract the government's attention. This argument may have merit, but this is a larger issue (although not disconnected) and deserves separate analysis of its own.
What remains to be seen is whether any of the other major (or minor, for that matter) cricketing nations take a similar stand and remove a vital tool in Robert Mugabe's quest for legitimacy. As the ICC has proven itself to be utterly inept at taking any decisions for the benefit of the game, various governments around the world will have to take up the mantle of killing two birds with one stone - for political and sporting reasons. Although a boycott of cricket tours from all countries will not be enough to show Mugabe the door, it will go some way to telling Zimbabweans that the world has not forgotten. It will also serve to do what the ICC has faild to accomplish - remove Zimbabwe from a cricketing arena that it has always struggled to belong in, and clearly should not do so for quite some time.
Governments, including John Howard's, must also prevent their teams from playing Zimbabwe on neutral ground. The decision not to tour is as much political as it is financial. From the state of cricket in Zimbabwe, it is obvious that the money given to Zimbabwe Cricket by the ICC is being pocketed by people who have no pretensions about spending even a cent of it for the better of the game. The money will still be legally made available to them if the matches are played in neutral venues.
Finally and only slightly on topic, I yearn for the day we that we have the pleasure of listening to an ICC CEO who speaks more than diplomatic gibberish. Malcolm Speed has presided over some of the most farcical events in cricket's history. He is the operations head of an organisation that has gone to great lengths to heap scorn upon itself. He has developed a self-serving structure that has no room for accountability and epitomises everything that a professional should not be. Part of Speed's legacy is the shambles that is Zimbabwe Cricket.
The Australian government's decision is not "unfortunate". Malcolm Speed's involvement with international cricket is the real tragedy.
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