Beyond the pale November 22, 2005

Why does the ICC dither on Zimbabwe?

Henry Olonga
Henry Olonga finds it uncanny how what is happening in Zimbabwe cricket so closely mirrors what is happening in the political arena there



From a Zimbabwe t-shirt to a Lashings t-shirt ... Henry Olonga knows a thing or two about fighting the forces in Zimbabwe © Getty Images

It's uncanny how what is happening in Zimbabwe cricket so closely mirrors what is also happening in the political arena there. I won't dwell on this but the signs are plain to see. Deadwood, who have nothing communally constructive or beneficial to offer. Lives bent on furthering personal agendas and empires, desperate to cling on using increasingly desperate methods.

It defies belief how far Zimabwe cricket is falling in sight of the world. Even more surprising is the international community's silence - to be fair, it is also predictable. The odd murmur here and there about it being an appalling situation, a disgrace, a tragedy, a fall from grace etc . I'm sure we've heard it all before. The world stands aside, getting involved everywhere else, it seems, but there. Afraid, I guess, of being labelled meddlers. The all-too-familiar guilt trip about race.

The most painful thing for me as a Zimbabwean watching at a distance is that the greed of a few individuals bent on self-serving interests has left nothing for future generations, in cricket and outside it. An analogy, if I may - cricket is a team game played by individual players, yet no team can succeed if they don't pull together as one. Even when the Zimbabwe team pulled together in the past it was always going to be difficult for them to beat the best. Team spirit was key when things went well, but was even more crucial when things went badly.

Now I think that the worst place to be in any team sport is to be hung out to dry on one's own. When no one looks one in the eye due to bad performance or gives one as much as a pat on the back to encourage when things go pear-shaped. Many cricketers have been there. Or to have a coach who reigns in some waywardness and keeps one honest. To feel uncomfortably unwelcome yet tolerated.

Zimbabwe has become that underperforming team-mate on the world stage, and world cricket has become the silent team, creating an uneasy atmosphere by not saying a word for fear of offending. Nothing said, negative or positive.

At some stage a team member who isn't performing gets dropped as his poor form may affect the team's morale. There is always a place to maintain confidence in a player who is struggling, and some players who are struggling bring a lot to a team in other ways, but poor form has limits. That's just the way the game works - or should. Perform or, soon enough, one gets dropped.

The way the Zimbabwe issue has been dealt with has set a dangerous precedent. How can world cricket turn a blind eye when all that has happened in Zimbabwe goes against the core values that make this game so credible? This great game which has a unique spirit has shown it has an undesirable side to it - at least, as far as administration goes.

When people turn a blind eye to corruption, mismanagement, rights abuses, unfair play, bullying tactics, threats of violence or poor form in full view of the world, and then go on to enforce the opposite noble values in a rule book, then most people look past the rule book. They look instead at the actions of those who enforce the rules.

I am afraid that the ICC has shown us the face of cricket that makes lesser mortals, with no influence, wealth or power, ask a pertinent question. What about the Spirit of Cricket. What if they cannot uphold the very values they attempt to instill?

A player hesitates over a decision on TV and gets fined, or has a bat logo too large and gets the same treatment. A whole nation's cricket fraternity is about to collapse, and because of some weird rule in the constitution, it cannot get involved. Could someone help me out here . I am a little confused. It seems the rule book only applies to players. Maybe money has the power to blind judgement.

I hope for cricket's sake we will see some action now, maybe this is a step too far by the powers in Zimbabwe and the ICC's hand has been forced. But it didn't have to come to this.

Henry Olonga is a former Zimbabwe international. His cricket career ended with the famous black-armband protest during the 2003 World Cup. He now lives in England and works as a broadcaster, musician and artist