CRICKET, the “Gentlemen’s Game,” has steadily declined during the past three decades to one of the bookies and now, worse, of politicians. Every cricket-playing nation has become a victim of these twin evils.
Englishmen who started it all and the traditions associated with it, too, have succumbed to these evils and are now in the vortex of a crisis that may wreck the World Cup series and do untold damage to international cricket.
The worm in the wood has been Tony Blair and his government that, for political reasons, do not want to play in Zimbabwe. The official reason cited by the British government has been the “security” of the players.
Earlier, neither the players nor the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had any objections to playing in Zimbabwe. The strong stand taken by the British government, however, appears to have swayed the players and finally the ECB itself, which appealed on Thursday to the International Cricket Council’s six- man technical committee to have the matches scheduled in Zimbabwe shifted to South Africa.
This committee, the final authority, unanimously dismissed this appeal made on the grounds that the allegations were “unclear in origin and of uncertain reliability, relying on hearsay and reports in newspapers and radio.” The final appeal of the ECB is to be heard by a South African judge.
While “security” is the reason cited by the British government, its spokesmen have referred to giving legitimacy to the Mugabe regime by playing there. What Mugabe is doing, seizing land of white farmers and handing them over to indigenous inhabitants in dire straits, is not to the liking of the British government
Nor are Mugabe’s actions being approved by Australia and New Zealand that were colonised by British and European settlers, leaving the indigenous people little or nothing to live on. Australia and New Zealand too have cited security reasons for their reluctance to play in Zimbabwe but it is quite clear that all this is motivated by the antipathy towards the Zimbabwean president.
The British, with a stiff upper lip, say “the game’s the thing” and all that. But they should have known better not to mix politics with the game. It could well be that many countries in the tournament are opposed to the war that Britain and the United States are about to launch against Iraq.
They might as well decide not to play against Britain in the tournament and not undertake tours of Britain if they disagree with the foreign policies pursued by the British government. All international sports will grind to a halt if politics is a criterion in international encounters.
In 1979, the US decided to boycott the Moscow Olympics because of the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and, in retaliation, the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics. Mercifully, these political criteria went out of international sports and now what Blair is attempting to do is to return to it. If Third World nations decide to emulate Blair, the repercussions on international sport will be inconceivable.
Of late, there appears to be another factor creeping into international cricket - the haughty attitude of the Big Brothers of the game and their inability to take defeat gracefully from less fancied nations.
The boorish attitude of the Australians when playing Sri Lanka was quite evident when Sri Lankan players were abused in racist language unbecoming of those of a civilised nation.
We do not endorse what is happening now in Zimbabwe where white settlers are being forced to leave their farms by black Zimbabweans.
But those who are experienced with the process of de-colonisation will realise that Mugabe held on for 20 years, giving the white settlers - only 2% of the population - to live off the fat of the land while the native landless population lived in abject poverty.
The British should have known better how to avoid the Zimbabwean crisis. Banning cricket matches is simply no solution to the crisis. It’s simply not cricket, old boy! Blair should be told.
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