'Our remit is cricket, not internal politics'
We receive considerable feedback on the subject of Zimbabwe cricket. Cricinfo talked to Ehsan Mani, the ICC president, about his organisation's approach to Zimbabwe and put a number of the issues you have raised to him
Our position in this matter is clear: the International Cricket Council in no way endorses the political regime or policies of any of our Member countries. Our members look to Governments to show leadership on political issues and should Governments of one or more of our members chose to take action which impacts on cricketing contacts between those members then we have to respect and abide by those decisions. Our remit is cricket, not the internal politics of our Members.
It should also be emphasized the ICC is run by its Members for its Members. There appears to be an underlying assumption in many matters concerning the ICC that someone, be it the President or the Chief Executive Officer, has the power to pick up the `phone to, for example, suspend a Member but that is not the case. It is the Members themselves that determine such policy within the framework of the ICC's constitution.
Are the ICC aware that journalists were banned from the recent board AGM and, while a local issue, is this not a concern?
We are aware of this matter but, as you say, it is up to each individual board to determine who it permits to attend and not one we would look to become involved in. It is not unusual for an AGM to be closed to the public and media. Having said that, any situation where conflict exists is obviously regrettable.
The ICC has repeatedly said that its role is to defend the integrity of Test cricket. Is its very integrity not being risked by such one-sided matches as were seen against India and New Zealand?
In all sporting competitions there are strong sides and weak ones and Test cricket is no different. The history of the game is littered with examples of such teams going head-to-head resulting in one-sided contests. We recognize that some countries such as Zimbabwe are not at their strongest at the moment but also acknowledge they are in a rebuilding stage. And in relative terms they are and Bangladesh are still very much in their infancy as Full Members of the ICC with Zimbabwe achieving Test status in 1992 and Bangladesh reaching that level in 2000.
One question constantly asked is why was politics relevant when South Africa were isolated over apartheid and yet now they aren't with regards to Zimbabwe when both are essentially political problems?
The issue of South Africa's sporting isolation was confirmed by a decision made by politicians when the Gleneagles Agreement of 1977 was produced and the ICC accepted that document. Economic and sporting sanctions were imposed against South Africa but no member government of an ICC country has sought to take such a stance against Zimbabwe.
We have consistently said that if politicians wish to refuse permission for one of our Members to play another then we will abide by that. That was the case when India and Pakistan did not play each other for five years before March 2004.
Our core activity is cricket and we are committed to fostering cricketing ties between our members wherever possible. Cricket has been a force for good in so many ways, as was shown to be the case when India and Pakistan resumed Test rivalries, the way the game united to raise money for victims of the Asian tsunami and the way the ICC pledged US$500,000 to assist in the relief efforts following the recent earthquake that devastated parts of India and Pakistan.
The ICC has been accused of putting money and cricketing politics first and the game's credibility and best interests second. How would you respond to this?
I am not sure how this point relates to Zimbabwe as such but in broader terms we have to recognize that cricket, whether we like it or not, operates in a competitive environment where many sports and pastimes are all looking to attract the public's dollar. In order to make the game as healthy as possible it is our duty as administrators to ensure we maximize revenue wherever possible and appropriate in order to ensure we are able to spread the game as widely as possible.
Revenue is generated through sponsorship and the staging of ICC Events, including the World Cup, the Champions Trophy, the Under-19 World Cup and the Johnnie Walker Super Series and funds can then be used for our Development Program, which was started in 1997. We accepted four new members - Jersey, Guernsey, Mali and Slovenia -into the ICC family as Affiliates in 2005 and we now have 96 members throughout the world. We have five regional offices - one each in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and East Asia-Pacific - with the sole aim of growing the game. This type of commitment obviously requires finance so we make no apology for looking to generate revenue that will benefit cricket.
Is it not a concern that Zimbabwe's players have accused the Zimbabwe board of being "at best incompetent, and at worst, a bully" and claim that it is mismanaging the game inside the country, while other senior players are retiring, citing the board's conduct as a major reason?
It is always a concern when players and administrators do not see eye-to-eye on issues that affect them but if that is the case in Zimbabwe then it is by no means a unique situation. There have been many similar situations documented through the years but wherever they exist the key for both parties has always been to try and find some middle ground that will allow for a compromise, as agreement is ultimately the key factor in benefiting both sides and the game as a whole in the longer term.
Could you envisage any scenario where a country might have its international status temporarily revoked, and how would that decision be made?
It is possible under the ICC's constitution for a Member to have its international status revoked but that would require 75 percent of the total membership - including eight Full Members - to vote in favour of it at the ICC's Annual Conference.
Such a move would also require notice to be given to the Member facing such a sanction. Under the ICC's constitution, such notice would have to be given by 31 December of any given year in order for it be considered at the ICC's Annual Conference in the following June. At that point the Member under consideration would have a further 12 months to resolve any issues before it faced possible suspension at the next Annual Conference.
Has any consideration being given to alternatives, such as suspending that status while they rebuild, with an effort to promote tours to and from Zimbabwe?
Consideration was given to this scenario but it was rejected by the Full Members of the ICC as they preferred to allow Zimbabwe to continue to play a full part in the Future Tours Programme.
The decision made by the Government of New Zealand to stop Zimbabwe touring by refusing to issue their players with entry visas was one made by politicians and, as we have said previously, we will always abide by such decisions, as we have when politicians from other Member countries have made decisions that affected us in the past.
In terms of any potential action by one Member against another, it would be inappropriate to speculate on what any of them may or may not do. However, it would be worth observing that any unilateral or even multilateral action taken that may not be in accordance with the views of the majority might result in consequences. For example, if a Member wished to apply to host an ICC Event having earlier acted in a way that some of its fellow Members felt to be inappropriate then that might jeopardize its chances of securing that Event when the time came for a vote on the issue. There would also be financial consequences as the refusal to allow a tour would be in contravention of the FTP regulation and all Full Members, including the ones mentioned above, are bound by the FTP.
Is it time to consider two divisions of Test cricket which would protect the lower countries and possibly, as with the new ODI structure, bring in new countries?
The concept of two divisions, or something akin to that, was considered, by the Chief Executives' Committee in October 2004 and it was rejected. It was proposed that Zimbabwe and Bangladesh played only at home as they looked to move forward in Test cricket but it was rejected as the Members felt they wanted both countries to play a full part in the international game.
Below the elite level of Test cricket the ICC is looking to raise playing standards. We introduced the ICC Intercontinental Cup in 2004, the first-class tournament for non-Test playing countries, and that has proved very successful with 12 of the leading Associate Members taking part this year. Scotland won the inaugural ICC Intercontinental Cup while Ireland beat Kenya in this year's final.
Many readers have suggested that an African team be created - excluding South Africa but including Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia etc. Would this work?
There is an argument that says that amalgamating countries to form a Test side would produce a team worthy of Test status. That argument says that a combined side might be able to boast more top-class players in its line-up than any side made up of the players from just one country.
Whether such an amalgam of Members would work in practice is open to question. Each Member aspires to reach the highest level it can, whether that be the pursuit of Test cricket, qualification for an ICC Event such as the Cricket World Cup, the Champions Trophy or even a place in the ICC Trophy. It may not be appropriate for the ICC to remove the chance of Members to achieve those aspirations on their own.
There are political and geographical considerations, too, in terms of who administers such a side and, in the case of Africa for example, the distances involved between countries is also a potential reason why such a merger might not work.
And on top of these factors there is the issue of the players themselves. The Johnnie Walker Super Series has re-opened the debate about whether it is possible for players from more than one country to come together and form an effective team. The merger of teams into one line-up may also impact on players' ability to represent their country of birth, something many of them would always aspire to do.
Given the problems in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, are you worried about the future of the game in the continent?
While it is true Zimbabwe are in a state of transition, South Africa remain a strong Test and one-day international side and Kenya's administration has made great leaps forward over the past year.
Below Test and one-day level there are plenty more good news stories within cricket in Africa. Uganda -where cricket is growing at a staggering rate - and Namibia both qualified for the ICC Trophy in Ireland in July 2005, Tanzania hosted Africa's first women's quadrangular tournament and Nigeria and Mali came together to stage a match to raise funds for the Asian tsunami relief effort.
Are the ICC monitoring the views of the stakeholders in general, and last Friday's meeting in particular?
The ICC consistently monitors the views of all of the game's stakeholders. It is aware of media reports but has not received any direct input from anyone involved in the meeting in question.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo