Oil And Water

by Quinn

For some strange reason, the cricket tour between England and Zimbabwe appears to be back on. How bizarre.

I must admit, the reason it had been called off, for refusing to admit some British sports journalists into Zimbabwe, seemed a bit odd. When in Zimbabwe there are routine human rights abuses, where people are being systematically starved, where political opponents and journalists are summarily arrested and intimidated, and where newspaper offices are smashed up and closed down, it seems weird that preventing Jonathan Agnew from describing a Michael Vaughan cover drive becomes a matter of press freedom and morality. As a reason to stop the tour, it seems a poor excuse.

But it was, at least, an excuse. So why wasn’t it used? I understand that this is a difficult matter for all the parties involved. The Government is reluctant to intervene without something like the Gleneagles Agreement in place, which related to playing sport in apartheid South Africa; the Zimbabwe tour is perhaps more analogous with the Moscow Olympics in 1980, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the British government disapproved of, but did not prevent, British athletes from competing. You can also understand how the ECB, in a cash strapped sport, does not want to take a financial hit from not playing the matches; although following the problems they had during the Cricket World Cup, I can hardly believe we are back in the same position today. Perhaps if more of the players had acted like Steve Harmison and refused to tour, and the team that turned up was so poor that I could have snuck in as reserve wicket keeper, then that would have sent some sort of message; according to Des Wilson, former chairman of the ECB’s corporate affairs and marketing advisory committee, writing in The Guardian (via Normblog), the players themselves do not want to play. In all then, the refusal by the Zimbabwe authorities to accredit British journalists surely presented all concerned with the perfect get out. A simple statement could be issued by the ECB that this was unacceptable, that the tour was off, and that the England team were now concentrating on the forthcoming matches against South Africa; then they could unplug the phone. End of story. The British government could then strongly condemn the action by the Zimbabwe authorities, in a hope that this would spare the ECB a fine from the ICC, while in private they could assure the ECB that they would not be out of pocket if this tack failed. There is always the chance the the ICC would then step in to try to resolve the matter, in which case the ECB simply sticks it fingers in its ears and sings “la-la-la, not listening”. Sorted.

Instead, David Morgan, the ECB Chairman, speaking on Channel 4 news last night, spoke of how hard he had tried to resolve the matter; he had been successful, the British journalists were back in, and the tour was on. Hooray. Why did he bother? Why not just call it a draw? You have to wonder, does he actually want the tour to go ahead?

Perhaps, like many, he is of the opinion that sport and politics do not mix; but they are not like oil and water. For one thing, all sporting bodies are, to some extent, political organisations. For another, sport is a great propaganda tool. Hitler tried it with the 1936 Olympics. China will try it with the 2008 Olympics.

All countries, when they host some sort of major tournament, hope there will be some sort of economic or political dividend. South Africa used to practice racism in sport, and used rebel tours in Cricket to combat its international pariah status as a nation. Zimbabwe is doing the same. I just don’t see why we appear to be fighting tooth and nail to assist the Mugabe regime, even in something as essentially trivial as sport.