July 1, 2008

Don't punish cricket for Mugabe's sins

John Traicos
Why banning Zimbabwe from the game for political reasons isn't the way to go

'There is nothing Zimbabwe Cricket or its supporters can do to secure a change of political scene © Getty Images

If the principal reason for the moves towards banning Zimbabwe Cricket is the political situation in the country, then I do not believe that a ban is justified. Cricket and politics should be kept separate as far as possible, unless politics interferes to such an extent that the cricketing body is not a good ICC cricket citizen.

There have been several instances in recent years where there has been political involvement in cricket affairs - Pakistan, Sri Lanka - but there has not been a ban by the ICC. The fact that Robert Mugabe is the patron of Zimbabwe Cricket should not in itself be a reason to ban Zimbabwe from international cricket.

There may be other good reasons to consider censuring Zimbabwe, or even applying a temporary ban, such as improper handling of finances, inadequate cricket development policies, or breaches of ICC regulations. If such reasons do exist then appropriate action can be taken to rectify that conduct.

If Zimbabwe is to be censured, or even temporarily banned, there must be a way forward to enable Zimbabwe Cricket to overcome its deficiencies so that it can regain its place as a member of the ICC and participate internationally. If the only solution is the retirement or withdrawal of Robert Mugabe or his political party from politics, then the reason for banning Zimbabwe is most likely unjustified because there is not much that Zimbabwe Cricket or its supporters can do to secure a change of political scene.

Overall, the ICC has a duty to promote and develop cricket wherever it is played. Zimbabwe can be no exception just because of unfortunate political circumstances. To banish Zimbabwe from international cricket because it happens to be in political difficulties would be unfair on its cricketers and supporters, who are part and parcel of the greater international brotherhood of cricket.

Even if you adopted a strictly political view and identified Robert Mugabe and his ruling party with Zimbabwe Cricket, it would be difficult to sustain that argument against the strong likelihood that most cricketers and cricket followers would have voted against Robert Mugabe's government in the recent elections, which in fact should have resulted in a defeat for Mugabe had it not been for the recent internal violence. To remove the Zimbabwe government or even change the patron of Zimbabwe Cricket under the current circumstances is clearly a difficult or impossible task for anyone.

If Zimbabwe is to be censured or banned, a way forward must be found to enable Zimbabwe Cricket to overcome its deficiencies so that it can regain its place as a member of the ICC and participate internationally

The political scene in Zimbabwe is causing great concern amongst countries worldwide who are contemplating the application of stricter political sanctions against Zimbabwe and its leaders. If sanctions and other punitive action come into effect, there may well be limits placed on the ability of Zimbabwe cricketers to play internationally and of teams to visit Zimbabwe.

The result will be a sad one for international cricket if a country that has under difficult circumstances developed the game reasonably successfully among its local population since 1992 is unable to participate in the sport internationally. A cricketing nation could be permanently severed from the game.

Unless there are reasons other than political ones to censure Zimbabwe Cricket, I believe that the ICC should be considering how best to help Zimbabwe Cricket to keep the game alive and how to overcome its other difficulties, which may be unacceptable to the international cricket community. Imposing a ban that can only be lifted by future political events will be unrealistic.

John Traicos played four Tests for South Africa in 1969-70 and three more for Zimbabwe in 1992-93. He also played 27 ODIs for Zimbabwe between 1983 and 1992-93.