Let's show some balls on Zimbabwe

Last updated 14:07 01/07/2008

The Beehive's greatest rugby league fan, Helen Clark reckons the New Zealand team should cancel their tour of Zimbabwe in July 2009. The PM said: "Obviously we would prefer the Black Caps not play in Zimbabwe...we'd be encouraging New Zealand Cricket to see if there was now potential to take the matter further."

Nice idea, but who exactly does she think should can the tour? Should the New Zealand players simply not turn up? Or should NZC overlook the tour and pretend they didn't see it in their diary, aka the International Cricket Council's Future Tours Program (the FTP)? Take your pick, but pointing to either of these two cricket groups is a complete and utter cop-out.

Expressing a preference or sending down a bit of encouragement to Cricket HQ in Christchurch is not exactly coming down like a Lance Cairns Excalibur is it? In order for the New Zealand team not to tour, there needs to be directives that are much more concrete emanating from the Government.

By way of comparison, it is clear that the position adopted by New Zealand's political leaders is considerably limper than that taken by their counterparts in both Britain and Australia in recent times.

Last month the British Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham, wrote to the ECB (read the letter here) and said the British Government had decided that it "would not be right" to allow the Zimbabwe Cricket to England in 2009 to go ahead.

Mr Burnham explained that calling on the ICC to act had proved ineffective. "The Government has previously called on the ICC to reconsider its rules to allow teams to forfeit tours to countries, such as Zimbabwe, where serious human rights abuses are occurring. Unfortunately the ICC has declined to do so. Therefore, the Government has decided to make it clear that it will take all necessary steps to prevent players from Zimbabwe from participating in that tour."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also waded in and fired a few shots to cow corner, telling Parliament: "We want to ensure that Zimbabwe does not tour England next year and we will call for other countries to join us in banning Zimbabwe from the Twenty20 international tournament."

And in May 2007, Australia’s government stepped up to the plate and officially - and unequivocally - barred the national cricket team from fulfilling their Zimbabwe tour slated for September 2007. Then Prime Minister John Howard, a self-confessed cricket tragic, said his foreign minister wrote to Cricket Australia and instructed the tour be canned.

He said: "We don’t do this lightly, but we are convinced that for the tour to go ahead there would be an enormous propaganda boost for the Mugabe regime... I have no doubt that if this tour goes ahead it would be an enormous boost to this grubby dictator and whilst it pains me both as a cricket lover and as somebody who genuinely believes these things should be left to sporting organisations...it leaves me with no alternative.

"I don’t think it’s fair to leave a foreign policy decision of this magnitude on the shoulders of young sportsmen. I hope the rest of the cricketing world understands that and it would be a very good idea if the rest of the cricket world adopted the same attitude towards Mugabe’s regime. I’m not going to stand around and allow some kind of aid and comfort be given to him [Mugabe] by the greatest cricketing team in the world visiting his country." 

The Australian government also offered to reimburse Cricket Australia for any losses under its agreement with the ICC and Zimbabwe Cricket for not proceeding with the tour. (More on Howard's brave call here.)

At a practical level, the New Zealand players and administrators are torn between their contractual obligations to the international game on one side, and the dilemma of heading off to a country to frolic about on cricket fields with political and moral turmoil erupting all around.

NZC has obligations to tour Zimbabwe as it is bound by the FTP and its associated revenue which is the lifeblood of cricket in New Zealand. In simple terms, the only way a tour can be axed is because of genuine concerns around security and safety of players, or because a country has forbidden its cricketers from touring.

If NZC decide to bite the hand that feeds and pull the pin on the tour for an unacceptable reason along the lines of: "Sorry chaps, we find Zimbabwe a morally reprehensible place to play", they will be staring down the barrel at an initial fine of US$2m from the ICC. Then there will be a killer blow: an obligation to pay Zimbabwe Cricket millions more as reimbursement for any losses incurred as a result of our no-show. If you sucked US$10m out of NZC, that would cripple the organisation and the sport of cricket in New Zealand. Hardly a practical option.

On the other hand, the players are contracted to NZ Cricket and must make themselves available for each and every tour - as much as some of them would like, they cannot pick and choose. Even if there were some allowances made for players who wanted to opt out on moral grounds, a New Zealand team of some description would still be obliged to front up in Harare.

If the government followed the lead of Britain and Australia and banned the tour, the ICC would regard the matter as outside the control of NZC. As Heath Mills from the NZ Cricket Players Association said to the NZ Herald: "If the NZ Government wanted to come out and say: 'Well, listen, we don't want any sporting ties with Zimbabwe cricket', then NZC would have to follow that and they would report that to the ICC and we wouldn't be required to honour that obligation." Game over. 

Alternatively, the government could put its money where its mouth is at present, and agree to reimburse NZC for any fines it incurs in not touring. That could work, but imagine the dreadful PR involved as the NZ government writes out a multimillion dollar cheque payable to Mugabe's cronies in and around Zimbabwe Cricket.

It is ridiculous to expect sporting organisations to make political decisions. If the ICC vote later this week to suspend or expel Zimbabwe, the decision will be taken away from NZC and the players, and also out of the hands of the government. A potentially utopian result - perhaps this is what we are waiting for politically? But when was the last time the ICC made a brave decision - and got it right? Let's not raise our hopes too high.

The New Zealand team should not go - but this decision must be taken at a national level. When the ICC play deaf, dumb and blind to the crisis in Zimbabwe this week, the government must show some balls, and make this call.

Post a comment
MadPommie   #1   04:26 pm Jul 01 2008

You are totally right, Holden. I suspect Clark has more on her mind than NZC tours to zimbabwe(a looming smacking in the election, perhaps?) but there has to be a directive from the Government with respects to a political situation.

In saying that, do you think it is right to deny the players the chance to represent their country due to political events? You could argue that sports should be apolitical, but wouldnt a Black Caps protest under Mugabes nose go down a treat on World TV? This stuff could be a modern day Cavaliers tour!

Ben   #2   04:54 pm Jul 01 2008

Really good points Holden.

It was very disappointing that no one could contrive a way out of the 2005 tour – no one came out of that drama looking good.

I recall in that case that it would have required the government making it illegal for the Black Caps to tour before the ICC would let NZC out of their obligations. That seemed extreme to me. In the absence of an embargo I don't the government has any place forbidding New Zealanders to travel. Do you know exactly how the English and Australian governments got their tours called off? Did they have to go to such extreme lengths?

Cmore   #3   06:35 pm Jul 01 2008

Great call, post this up on John Key's facebook/bebo page and let him loose in the House.

kiwifascist   #4   07:03 pm Jul 01 2008

Sorry Holden, but how can Clark ban the tour. Withold the passports of the NZ team? Not likely. If Zimbabwe was coming here then she could ban the tour and NZC would not be liable to any penalties from the ICC.

The British government is currently considering banning Zimbabwe from coming to the international 20/20 tournament (which will likely see the ECB lose the hosting rights) but it has been powerless to stop England cricket from touring Zimbabwe.

It seems that only the Aussies and the Indians have the clout to not go, which is ironic given that the BCCI is the principal supporter of Zimbabwe Cricket.

Anyway, Clark did ban the Zimbabwe team from visiting NZ in December 2005, which the ICC had to accept. NZ cricket did, however, have to tour Zimbabwe earlier this year, despite the government making it clear it wished them not to go ahead. The government said it would not ape Mugabe's tactics by ordering the players not to go.

Some could say that is a cop out, but I don't. The onus has got to be on the ICC, not national governments. Governments should limit their involvement to banning tours from Zimbabwe and putting pressure on the ICC to ban Zimbabwe, at least from the Future Tours Program.

Until the ICC gets a backbone, NZC should tour under strenuous objection and send the strongest possible message by selecting a team of no-hopers wearing black armbands. In fact, they should rename them the Black Armbands for the tour. The only danger is that if we send no-hopers they may actually be confused for the NZ Cricket team.

I would volunteer to play, under those terms and I could guarantee I wouldn't score any runs, take any wickets or hold any catches. As my name suggests, that would not be due to my political beliefs but simply because I am a watcher not a player and am absolutely sh***.

The Holden   #5   07:49 pm Jul 01 2008

MadPommie: She has an easy win here, falling in behind Britain & Australia'a precedent and neutralising anawkward situation. As far as the BCs protest goes, it would be a grand gesture...until their hotel gets "accidentally incinerated" overnight. Perhaps the Poms might like to pop over and do it instead?

Jonathan   #6   09:00 pm Jul 01 2008

Unfortunately there is no chance of the ICC voting Zimbabwe down. The only chance we have is if they decide that Zimbabwe no longer deserves member status based on sporting ability (or a complete lack of it). While this doesn't address the fundamental issue, namely that there is no way that any money should be going to Zimbabwe from the ICC (as it goes straight in Mugabe's pockets, and this way Zim retain their ICC funding), and that there are terrible human rights atrocities being perpetrated there, it may mean that we get out of the tour.

This is another example of the ICC's complete and utter irrelevance. Why don't we just let the BCCI run the game and remove the pretence? At some point England and Australia are going to have to attempt to wrest some power back because the current situation concentrates too much power in the Asian block. Hopefully we can hang off their coat tails and try and get a few scraps...like some guarantees our test commitments won't conflict with the money scramble that is the IPL.

Philpott   #7   10:07 pm Jul 01 2008

About 8 years ago...in the middle of a test between NZ and Zim the game stopped mid session so Mugabe could meet the players. Both teams had to line up ala national anthem time and shake his hand....he is an odd, and no doubt bad man but with a sensationally bad set of shirts in his wardrobe.

Hadley   #8   10:25 pm Jul 01 2008

You've gotta get rid of that photo of Helen, its enough to make me sick. Why not a photo from a previous NZ vs Zimbabwe match? I prob wont sleep tonight now. ew

cooch   #9   01:16 am Jul 02 2008

I have to say I agree with the last comment from the mad pom - using the tour to express disapproval is a clearer stand to take than the murky morality of a ban.

If we stop playing cricket with Zimbabwe then we should also stop our swimmers from jumping in the pool with Kirsty Coventry. Zimbabwean tennis players, golfers and football players are also presumably 'providing a propaganda boost' for Bob and his thugs. While we are at it, let's kick Egypt out of the Olympics, because their elections have roughly the same number of candidates as Zimbabwe's had.

Zimbabwe is not Apartheid South Africa, where sporting bans let the white community know that the world didn't like their politics. While repression is repression, and the world is right to express its disgust, in this case sporting bans won't make a blind bit of difference.

Black armbands might at least make Sir Robert feel slightly uncomfortable in his own corporate box. Bit like Hitler felt, when Jesse Owens stole his show.

Tomato   #10   06:34 am Jul 02 2008

Surely isnt the easiest way to sort out all this mess just to instruct the BCCI to schedule some pointless 20/20 competetion during the tour and therefore withdraw half of our national team.

An otherwise interesting option could be to select eleven BBC journos (who are banned from the country) and let them play Zimbabwe under their adopted flag.

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