The ICC's plans for the rebel tours September 3, 2007

More than just facts and figures

Fazeer Mohammed



Collis King in action during the rebel series of 1982-83 © AllSport UK Ltd

This is much more than just playing with numbers, or at least it should be to West Indians especially and fans of West Indian cricket in general.

Last week's news that the ICC are considering reinstating first-class status to matches played during the rebel tours of South Africa in the 1980s seems, on the surface, to be a straightforward matter. By all accounts the standard of cricket was extremely high, involving as it did some of the finest players of the day. The competition between the teams was very intense and, as Brian Murgatroyd, the ICC media manager explained, those matches "were played as an integral part, indeed the pinnacle, of each season's domestic fixtures under the jurisdiction of the home board."

Yet even if it appears to be nothing more than, as Murgatroyd suggested, "a bit of housekeeping to provide clarity to the statistical community," there is a much wider context that must be taken into consideration. I believe this context is much more significant than seeking to calm those who see the game purely from the perspective of runs, wickets and all the requisite standards that accompany first-class cricket.

First of all, the fact that they were referred to as 'rebel' tours in the first place implies that they did not have the approval of the home boards from which these teams originated. So even if the South African authorities made those matches the showpiece of their seasonal calendars, as far as the administrations in England, West Indies, Australia and Sri Lanka were concerned, the tours were illegal from a cricketing standpoint. Another point is that there was no uniformity among all countries in the sanctions imposed on the offending players.

The fact is that you cannot just retroactively confer official sanction on competitions that took place in an environment of state-authorised racial discrimination

What is also conveniently overlooked is that South Africa were in the midst of international sporting isolation, so it really shouldn't have mattered whether the officials there were fulfilling all the requirements of first-class cricket. That is, of course, unless you see the sport in isolation, distinct and apart from the societal circumstances in which it exists. And this is what the issue is really about.

Forget all the talk about proper systems, structures, standards or comparisons with Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, and why that breakaway effort does not qualify for first-class consideration. The fact is that you cannot just retroactively confer official sanction on competitions that took place in an environment of state-authorised racial discrimination. South Africa's official apartheid policy (at the time) kept the majority black population in a perpetual state of impoverishment and deprivation.

It is for this reason alone that Julian Hunte, the newly-appointed West Indies Cricket Board president, should be prepared to face any resistance from the other full member countries and hold on to some semblance of moral ground in this matter when it comes up for consideration at the ICC's meeting of chief executives in Johannesburg next week.

If the officials of England, Australia and Sri Lanka, together with the rest of the cricketing world, even including South Africa see this as a done deal, that is their business. Surely, it is not so straightforward for us

Given our history as Caribbean people - the vast majority of whom are the descendants of Africans who came to this part of the world as slaves - it will be an exhibition of scandalous disregard for that de-humanising experience to have no qualms about pretending that the controversy that accompanied the two West Indies rebel tours in 1982-83 and 1983-84 never happened. If the officials of England, Australia and Sri Lanka, together with the rest of the cricketing world, even including South Africa see this as a done deal, that is their business. Surely, it is not so straightforward for us.

This is not about being eternally vindictive and seeking to punish the rebel players for the rest of their lives. The evidence of the last 23 years suggests that this has certainly not been the case. Even after the initial outrage at what was seen as a shameless betrayal of their suffering black brethren in South Africa, the former rebels - except maybe in Jamaica where feelings against the players were strongest - have almost all returned to their respective communities.

Yes, strong feelings linger over what the players did and we can still fervently argue the rights, wrongs and circumstances of their actions then. But life goes on, and it serves no useful purpose to continuously crucify people for the rest of their lives. Nothing exemplifies that conciliatory mood better than when Barbados fast bowler Ezra Moseley walked out at the Queen's Park Oval for his Test debut against England in 1990, just six years after he and other rebels were slapped with "life" bans by the West Indies board.

But forgiveness, or even understanding the decisions that might have been made in haste or out of financial necessity, does not mean forgetfulness, or more importantly, what was wrong at that time is now right almost a quarter-century later.

The ICC has created enough of its own statistical problems in the last two years in granting official status to glorified fete matches (Super Series, Tsunami Appeal, Afro-Asia Cup and there are surely more to come). If irate statisticians want to hurl sharpened pencils at each other from 20 paces to determine the winners of their numerical argument, let them fix up.

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