Zimbabwe news February 7, 2013

Andy Flower recalls armband protest

Andy Flower, the former Zimbabwe captain and current England team director, has spoken openly about his black armband protest at the 2003 World Cup to mark 10 years since he and Henry Olonga stood against "the death of democracy" in Zimbabwe.

Flower reflected on the events of February 10, 2003, in Harare, when Zimbabwe played Namibia, in a BBC Radio 5 Live programme and spoke in detail for the first time about what prompted him to don the armband. He said that "given the same circumstances," he would "without a doubt," do it again.

During one of Zimbabwe's worst periods of oppression in the early 2000s, a friend of Flower's, Nigel Huff, took him to see the devastation on his farm caused by land reform. He also told Flower the national cricket team had a "moral obligation not to go about business as usual during the World Cup but to tell the world what was going on in Zimbabwe."

Flower approached Olonga for two reasons. He thought Olonga would have "the courage of his convictions to take a stand," and wanted to have two people of different races making the same protest. "I also thought the fact that it would be one white Zimbabwean and one black one operating together gave the message the most eloquent balance," Flower said.

Together with David Coltart, then a human rights lawyer and now the country's minister of sports, education, arts and culture, the idea of armbands was conceived. Nobody in the team or elsewhere knew what Flower and Olonga were going to do until the morning of their opening match against Namibia.

Before play, a statement was handed to the media containing details of the symbolism in their gesture. It contained an explanation: "Although we are just professional cricketers, we do have a conscience and feelings. We believe that if we remain silent that will be taken as a sign that either we do not care or we condone what is happening in Zimbabwe. We believe that it is important to stand up for what is right.

"In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe."

A copy of the statement is framed and hangs in Flower's study where he occasionally re-reads it. "I love the way it was written - the meaning in some of those sentences is very sad because it is a reminder of what was happening in that country at that time and some of the people who went through agony and lost their lives," he said.

During his interview with Alison Mitchell, she asked him to read it aloud and he did. She recalled that he "struggled to keep his voice from cracking," and "the emotion was evident in his eyes."

Although Flower said he knew his international career would end and he would have to leave Zimbabwe, Olonga thought his life would go on in his homeland. "I had in my own naivety thought I could carry on in Zimbabwe - maybe my career would come to an end but I could still live there. But that all changed when I got death threats two or three weeks after the World Cup. I realised the game was up," Olonga said.

Olonga now lives in England where he works as a singer and public speaker. He would like to return to Zimbabwe with his wife and two daughters but would "need some guarantees that people who wanted to harm me a few years ago do not still want to harm me," he said.

Flower would also like to return and hopes to go back to a better place. "We can't all change the world, but if we all do little things along the way and make the most powerful decisions we can then I think we can bring about change," he said.

Andy's brother, Grant, is the current Zimbabwe's batting coach so the family connection with the national team remains. However, Grant he will not travel to West Indies on the forthcoming tour because of what ZC termed a "technical change" to their structure.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Syed on February 9, 2013, 23:22 GMT

    If Andy helps Zimbabwe that would make him feel good, maybe send England A team or other teams to tour Zimbabwe so the national team can improve

  • Rav on February 8, 2013, 14:04 GMT

    I salute the courage shown by Andy and Henry. The annihilation of Democracy in Zimbabwe sadly coincided with the annihilation of the one of the most talented group of professional cricketers Zimbabwe ever possessed (In the early 00's, Zimbabwe appeared to be turning a corner and going through a critical transition phase leading to new era of higher quality cricket with the The Flower brothers, Heath Streak, Taibu, Campbell... et all). They had a great blend of youth and experience and who knows what they might have achieved had they been given a chance to gel together and mature over many years of test cricket.

    I have no doubt that Zimbabwe would have been an Internationally competitive team at test level by now, above the level of West Indies, were it not for political upheaval.

  • ian on February 8, 2013, 9:09 GMT

    This was a superb BBC radio programme: the sort that no other broadcaster is capable of putting together. It is well worth an attentive hour's listening. And when people criticize Andy Flower, whatever you criticize, never, never question his integrity & moral courage; he, like his 'comrade' (that's the word preferred by Henry Olonga, as, curiously, the two are not close friends) showed such bravery in the face of a cruel & repressive regime that it should provide inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere. AF & HO bear out the truth that Edmund Burke first articulated: all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. The world could do with many more out of the same mould, even in the relatively small world of cricket.

  • Rayner on February 8, 2013, 9:05 GMT

    Both Andy and Henry have the heart of a lion. One of the great storys of cricket, Henry Olonga's book is a captivating read one for any cricket fan.

  • Dummy4 on February 8, 2013, 3:05 GMT

    My salute ans gratitude to those enlightened heart.

  • John on February 8, 2013, 2:43 GMT

    Noone's perfect but Andy Flower is obviously a man to be respected, both for his cricketing ability and his principles. If KP really did think that he could win a battle of wills with Flower, he was sadly mistaken. Not that everything he says and does will turn out to be right but, overall, I think that England cricket is in good hands with him and the ECB did the right thing by trying to maximise the length of time that he will be involved by easing up on the magnitude of that involvement.