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

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