ICC board meeting July 4, 2008

Playing the power game

For India, the Zimbabwe issue is less a moral one and more one of realpolitik

The Zimbabwe issue is viewed with detachment in Asia. There is also a deep-rooted suspicion about Western double standards © Getty Images

Chinua Achebe, one of Africa's greatest writers, once said of his country: "Nigeria is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be." After the ICC meeting in Dubai, anyone who is passionate about the game could be entitled to a similar view. Long before the great and good had assembled at the Westin Hotel, rumours had been rife that a compromise would be brokered and everyone sent home happy. And, like in a hackneyed movie script, the contrived ending was duly arrived at.

Some would say the discussions weren't really about Zimbabwe at all. The ECB, emboldened by support from the British government, wanted to make sure Zimbabwe wouldn't be party-poopers at the World Twenty20 in England next summer. With Twenty20 being cricket's current leitmotif, there was more than pride at stake. Almost every match is a guaranteed sell-out and the TV revenue alone will swell board coffers by millions. And even as they watch from thousands of miles away, Zimbabwe's black-sheep administration will still rake in the dollars.

For India it was about maintaining its power base at the ICC. After the meeting, Peter Chingoka made special mention of his Indian friends. How could he not? After all, Zimbabwe is the fifth vote, the buffer against cricket's old powers when Asia wants to get its way. The latest crisis came at a good time for the BCCI. With the Champions League, an offshoot of the IPL, pencilled in for late September, the issue of the "rebel" ICL players needs to be sorted out. Chingoka and friends might just have become convenient pawns in the pursuit of that agenda.

Cricket realpolitik aside, though, it's important to understand why the Zimbabwe issue is viewed differently in Asia. The outcome in Dubai is likely to evoke moral outrage in England and Australia, but in India it is most likely to be seen with more detachment as yet another compromise in the boardrooms of the ICC. This is because, apart from the fact that the atrocities in Zimbabwe don't occupy column inches in the Indian media, there is a deep-rooted suspicion about Western double standards.

Practically every cricket-playing country has blood on its hands. No one refused to play in Guyana during the 20 years that Forbes Burnham ruled, nor did they refuse to tour Pakistan during all the years that the country was under military rule. In Sri Lanka a violent conflict that has its roots in ethnic differences is now into its third decade. And Britain and Australia were staunch backers of the Bush administration that went to war in Iraq over weapons of mass destruction that only Donald Rumsfeld and his spy satellites could see.

Robert Mugabe was an honoured guest at the African Union summit in Egypt recently, and his host was Hosni Mubarak, who won the last election in 2005 with 88.6% of the vote after the main opposition was banned from taking part. Britain and the United States continue to trade and do business with Mubarak and Egypt. Human-rights violations worse than those committed by Zanu-PF's thugs have been reported from Darfur, Tibet and Guantanamo Bay. Yet, Gordon Brown and other guardians of human rights are hardly likely to start a campaign against the US or China.

Parallels have been drawn with South Africa in the 1960s, and India's role at the vanguard of the anti-Apartheid movement. Why the apathy now, some ask? The situation is entirely different. The struggle that Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo led was for the huge majority that had been reduced to secondary-citizen status ever since Daniel Malan and the National Party came to power in 1948. The introduction of identity cards based on race in the 1950s made it worse, and Hendrik Verwoerd's apartheid state was an international pariah by the next decade.

Thrown out of the Olympic movement just before the Tokyo games in 1964, South Africa's subsequent sporting ties tended to be with the cricket and rugby teams of the Commonwealth - England, Australia and New Zealand in particular. In apartheid South Africa, racial discrimination was a state policy. Nothing similar exists across the border, where the story is of an ageing dictator and his apparent determination to run the country into the ground before he's interred in it. With only a few thousand whites left, it's the black majority that has suffered most at the hands of a man who was once seen as their saviour.

As of now, despite Mugabe's increasingly desperate and brutal methods to cling on to power, Zimbabwe has yet to be recognised as a rogue state by the international community. They will go to the Olympics in Beijing and be given the red-carpet treatment by another totalitarian regime that is one of its biggest backers. They will also play their part in the qualifying rounds for the football World Cup.

In apartheid South Africa, racial discrimination was a state policy. Nothing similar exists across the border, where the story is of an ageing dictator and his apparent determination to run the country into the ground before he's interred in it. With only a few thousand whites left, it's the black majority that has suffered most at the hands of a man who was once seen as their saviour.

Would a ban from the cricket field make the slightest difference to day-to-day life in Zimbabwe, where the sport still doesn't enjoy anything like the popularity that football does? Will it hasten Mugabe's exit, when the nation's cricket already resembles the building that was burnt to the ground by a former player not so long ago?

Despite all of this, as the trend-setters in the modern game, the BCCI could have led by example and heeded the words of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, who believe that isolating Mugabe might at least initiate the movement towards normalcy. But there are no Mandelas in the BCCI.

What happened in Dubai was little more than a charade, an elaborately contrived game of cricket politics that ended with England (World Twenty20 championships), India (more leverage to twist ECB arms on the ICL-player situation), Pakistan (Oval forfeit reversal) and Zimbabwe (money) all getting their way.

Perhaps it's best to end with Achebe, who observed that "one of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised". If this week is any indicator, cricket has failed miserably.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Santosh on July 6, 2008, 17:55 GMT

    This article is an eye opener , So far i have been supporting ECB on the stance of Banning Zimbabwe from Cricket , but I don't see the logic anymore, Because this article made me ask ..why just cricket? What Gordon Brown has done for Darfur, or Tibet? This is just a political ploy and nothing else. But this does not mean that i support the atrocities of General Mugabe. Hope the Zimbabweans find peace soon .. and neither i am supporting the thugs of BCCI who have no morals, so to say it never made a difference, BCCI and ZC are just brothers from different mothers.

  • Pooja on July 6, 2008, 17:24 GMT

    zingzangspillip: I never claimed India is inherently superior, all I did was to point out the hypocrisy in the western media including ESPN-cricinfo. They want Indian money but western control, but when it comes to UN or World Bank, their stand is reversed. All international organizations are controlled by them because there the principle is "payer calls the tune". In theory all countries have equal voting power in general assembly but control over budget and security council vetos give them power beyond that envisaged. Thus, whole world can keep crying foul but they can go to war in Iraq, create and dethrone monsters as dictators at will, change governments, etc as and when it is convenient to them. It is not a consolation for the world to know that Bush and his cronies went to war against the wishes of their people and media. At best, it shows that democracy is non-existent even in the countries that project themselves as keepers of conscience and at worst their own complicity.

  • Ravish on July 6, 2008, 11:25 GMT

    BCCI should look at playing tests and one-day games between the IPL franchises in addition to T20s. They should look at these franchises play each other for 5-6 months (hopefully 8 months in a few years from now) in an year (a proper mix of tests, one days, and T20s. They should commit to minimum international tours so as to maintain their international status. May be IPL will open franchises in SL, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Dubai and play these franchises much more than play international tours. I don't mind one bit watching these franchise games as opposed to international tours. Why provide 70% of the finances to the ICC and then get bad mouthed by this UN body all the time? Let ECB provide the ICC with 70% of their finances and run their politics. Frankly, I don't care what happens to ICC. After IPL, there are many people who are content with just watching domestic franchises play.

  • karthikeyan on July 6, 2008, 9:59 GMT

    To all the cricket boards.If the boards continue to fight like this ,then how will the cricket develop in other countries. how others look at cricket. it useless in criticizing ICC. what i have got is that icc is just a organisation from all members.criticising icc is like criticising themselves.already we have seen enough fight in the india VS australia and in eng VS nz too. i accept that bcci is only for money.but they havent ruined the cricket. the fact is all the asian countries are properly paid by the bcci. asian countries are playing properly. have ECB given ateast given any single penny to european countries?are they touring any european countries?are they developing ireland or scotland?it is the responsibilityof all the boards to develop the cricket.icc cant do many things,since all the 8 test playing nations are playing bilateral cricket war with many fights for the full year.then there is no window for the cricket.Time to think for all the boards.especially BCCI,ECB,CA.

  • karthikeyan on July 6, 2008, 7:37 GMT

    hai archprakash .great. very nice comment from you.i am very much happy about ur comments.if you go and see the threads from the bbc articles,all the comments will be against bcci and india and ipl.And they like stanford very much. what is more pathetic is that the whole bbc team as same as their people. in between the public comments,the moderator come and post a message in replying to others which is against.and bbc is more worst than their people

  • Janaki on July 6, 2008, 4:31 GMT

    Nice one with actual facts>>

    The problem with BCCI is having a politician at the top. He is in there for money, power and politics. He is not gone care for anything else. Moral issues ... what moral issues???

  • Adrian on July 6, 2008, 2:00 GMT

    Part of the problem with dealing with the Zimbabwe issue is the fact that this isn't your normal "white minority abusing black majority" or even a "white majority abusing black minority". This is in fact a "black majority abusing white minority". Because we as an international community aren't used to this kind of behaviour, therefore we don't know how to deal with it. Any time that anyone tries to bring it up, Robert Mugabe claims that they are just racist against the blacks of Zimbabwe. The fact that it has gone beyond abusing whites (because they are all either dead or else have fled, with a scant few still remaining) is glossed over by Robert Mugabe's regime. He still plays the race card.

    This will be seen in history as a prime example of how racism is not just whites being bad to blacks. Racism is any discrimination. Here is an example of blacks abusing whites, and of blacks abusing blacks and pretending that it is okay because to say it is bad is racism.

  • Stew on July 5, 2008, 23:52 GMT

    Zimbabwe Cricket has stolen tens of millions of dollars from the ICC - although this was never proven because the findings of an INDEPENDANT audit committee was never released. Even their own players (Andy Flower, Henry Olonga et al) believe that cricket in the nation has been destroyed. They can't field a competitive team in any form of cricket, so why should they retain full membership of the ICC and receive further millions in funding? Answer - because the nations aligned with INDIA will all bow to the pressure of the all-too powerful BCCI. The longer these pariahs like Chingoka stay in charge the richer they will become and the poorer cricket will be for it. The ICC should be ashamed.

  • Chinmay on July 5, 2008, 21:21 GMT

    There is absolutely no case for Zimbabwe to be disqualified from playing in T20 Championships as long as they are allowed to participate in Olympics. Absolutely no case at all. Dileep rightly points out that in South Africa's case, SA were already thrown out of Olympics before they got banned from Cricket.

    There is case, however, for Zim's status as a full member to be revoked for playing very badly. In such a case, they should be reverted back to associate member status and allowed to play in Qualification tournaments for the T20 World Cup.

    However, this is the chief reason why this was a political and not a cricketing problem. Zimbabwe would have qualified for T20 WC as an associate member. Somehow, I can't see ECB liking that.

    As far as BCCI wanting to preserve their votebank goes, they didn't need to. They already have 5 votes (4 asian countries plus WI) to depend on in a 9 member ICC.

  • Bob on July 5, 2008, 19:52 GMT

    Banning Zimbabwe from sporting organizations will do nearly nothing to improve the situation in that country. Certainly, no one in that country is going to care if ICC or even FIFA ban them. A ban from the IOC might carry a little more weight, but face it, will Mugabe say "Oh, we are expelled from ICC. I better hand over the government to Tsangirai and the officials the people actually voted for." No. I say temporarily suspend them personally...but I only wish that such tough level of discussion was going on amongst the African Council or UN instead of a mere sporting body.

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