Teflon kings survive another day
Anyone who believes that Zimbabwe Cricket withdrew from the World Twenty20 "in the interest of the game" probably believes in Santa Claus. Backed into a corner that even its protecting angels within the ICC could not get it out of, there was little choice. When Peter Chingoka, the man who has come to personify Zimbabwe Cricket said, "We don't want to gatecrash where we are not welcome," it was hard to keep a straight face.
Many argue the Zimbabwe Cricket board has never acted in the interests of cricket either inside or outside the country. Chingoka's bleating that the ICC could not expel Zimbabwe because it was against its own rules would have drawn more than a few wry smiles back home, coming from a man who utterly shredded his own board's constitution two years ago to ensure his own survival.
And that's what the decision today is all about - survival. The end result is a compromise that does little to help cricket inside Zimbabwe, and further tarnishes the already battered image of the ICC.
There remain deep divisions within the ICC over Zimbabwe cricket. Some maintain that the politics of the country should have no bearing on the game; others argue that the two are so inexorably intertwined that it is simply not possible to maintain anything like normal relations on a sporting level.
Chingoka epitomises the quandary. In England, especially, he is seen as a Robert Mugabe stooge. British government sources both inside Zimbabwe and in London maintain they have overwhelming evidence of his political links. That is why he has been refused a visa to enter the UK, even though ICC president David Morgan admitted in April nobody within the ICC had thought it necessary to ask him why the application had been turned down. That seems to sum up the ICC stance: See no evil, hear no evil. Elsewhere, Chingoka is seen as an administrator and a decent man doing his best to survive in a wretched political set-up.
Casting Zimbabwe into the wilderness was not really what anyone wanted. The solution would have been a suspension from cricket, and reduced and supervised funding. Remove the embarrassment of their lamentable cricket performances and put their dubious finances out in the open. As one ICC official said, it would have been putting Zimbabwe cricket into an oxygen tent until things in the country were more conducive to rebuilding the game.
Sadly, pragmatism is not something the ICC is famous for and the real shame of this so-called solution is that it has done nothing for the remnants of grass-roots cricket in the country. A three-man panel has been set up to look into things. Previous ICC fact-finding missions have reported back in glowing terms about the state of the game in Zimbabwe despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The only glimmer of hope is that the latest panel is headed by Julian Hunte, the West Indies board's president and an experienced and capable career politician.
In the UK there will be widespread anger at the fudged outcome in Dubai but absolutely no surprise. It is some time since the ICC has been seen as a body that acts for the right reasons rather than a closed group that represents the self-interest of its board members.
Even the fact that the World Twenty20 remains in England is political. It's certainly nothing to do with Zimbabwe Cricket's largesse. The reality is that the event stands to make too much money for the ICC, and so the various boards. Chingoka was forced to back down, with the trade-off being that Zimbabwe Cricket continues to retain its utterly undeserved place at the game's top table.
|It is unlikely that the telephones will be buzzing with requests for ZC to accommodate incoming teams. And given that Zimbabwe have all the commercial appeal of malaria, few will want to incur the losses of a home series|
Look deeper into the outcome and the behind-the-scenes deals almost defy belief. Zimbabwe will retain full funding, despite not playing Tests, or any other meaningful cricket, come to that, and what's more, despite questions over the way that money is spent inside Zimbabwe that won't go away. The salt in the wound is that they will get their fee from the ICC World Twenty20 despite not having to even lift a bat in anger. It seems the less Zimbabwe actually play, the more cash rolls in.
You have to feel for leading Associates such as Scotland and Ireland. They play more cricket than Zimbabwe, have far superior domestic structures and thoroughly professional and transparent administrative set-ups. And yet they have to sit back and watch every penny as the dollars pour into the void of Zimbabwe cricket's accounts.
There will be a few wry smiles over Chingoka's unashamed toadying to India, who have fought hard to keep Zimbabwe afloat. "We are now looking forward to more tours and international cricket with our Asian friends, especially India," he gushed. While in theory Zimbabwe remain part of the Future Tours Programme, the reality is that only the four Asian countries and West Indies will even consider playing them. Some will point to the actions of the Indian board as being little short of hypocrisy, given they scrapped their own tour of Zimbabwe last month for the flimsiest of reasons.
For now, Zimbabwe slips back under the radar. It remains to be seen how many countries actually back words with deeds and decide that Harare and Bulawayo are the kind of places they want to visit. It is unlikely that the telephones will be buzzing with requests for ZC to accommodate incoming teams. And given that Zimbabwe have all the commercial appeal of malaria, few will want to incur the losses of a home series.
Zimbabwe, the Teflon kings of the ICC, have survived to fight another day. It might well be that they have used up the last of their political favours to escape this mess, but they have bought themselves a little more time.
For all the arguments that sport and politics don't mix, the irony is that the thing that could oust those overseeing cricket in Zimbabwe is a change of regime in the country. If Mugabe does go then those allied to his Zanu-PF regime will perish along with him. Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC has long lists and longer memories. You can bet that if that day arrives, many of those who backed Zimbabwe through thick and thin will be distancing themselves from the current leadership with almost indecent haste.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo