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Wisden Cricinfo staff
April 14, 2004
Thirteen members of the Zimbabwe cricket team have released an open statement airing their concerns about the state of cricket in their country. Here it is in full:
We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the decision taken by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union Board on Friday the 2nd April 2004 which has had the effect of terminating Heath Streak's Captaincy of the Zimbabwe Cricket Team. We have been aware of the general concerns that Heath has raised with the Board for some time and they are concerns that we share. Heath has also assured us that he did not threaten to resign as alleged by the Board, but merely stated that if the concerns were not addressed he would "consider possible Retirement". Knowing Heath's dedication to the Game and to us as his team mates we have no reason to doubt his version is correct.
It is important to reiterate what some of those concerns are, as we are perturbed by some Press reports and Statements made which convey that the sole issue surrounding Heath's dismissal relates to the Selection Panel and that in some way Heath's concerns were racially motivated. Furthermore, we believe that some local press in Zimbabwe is not reporting this matter fully or accurately and this therefore leaves us with no option but to make our position clear.
The concerns, in summary, are:
1 - Selection Panel
We have been concerned for some time about what we consider to be the unprofessional manner of selection. There has been interference of a non-sporting nature. There has, in our view, been racial and ethnic discrimination in the selection of the National Team. We must stress that we wholeheartedly support the Development Objectives of the ZCU and the need to take the Game to the majority of Zimbabweans. However in our view, there has been so much interference that deserving Players of all races have been excluded from both the National Team and the Zimbabwe A Team solely because of their race or region from where they come. For example a Board members instruction to re-select a Team already ratified by the ZCU as well as threats made by yet another Board member of "Boycotts and Pitch Invasions". These were made on discriminatory grounds! This interference has gone way beyond the Developmental Objectives of the ZCU's own policy documents, including the Mission Statement, which reads that it "will develop cricket for the benefit of all Zimbabweans without discrimination of any kind". We believe that problems of this kind can be rectified if minimum qualifications for Selectors were introduced, as we have suggested, and if those responsible for the interference in team selection are made accountable and if necessary disciplined in a transparent manner by the Board. We should also stress that the minimum qualifications proposed by the players are not discriminatory and indeed it would in our view be easy for a selection panel to be established with a majority of qualified black Zimbabweans. Names that come to mind would be Ethan Dube and Mpumelelo Mbangwa (Providing he is willing to give up his commentary) both of whom are qualified, ex-national players who could also solve the problem of Matabeleland being represented on the Selection Panel.
The points Heath raised were:
i) Level 3 Coaching Certificate with 5 to 6 years experience as a First Class Coach.
ii) To have played 5 or 6 years of First Class Cricket.
iii) To have represented the Zimbabwe National Team.
2 - Players Association
We are aware that Heath has been pressing for the financing (as is the norm in other Test Playing Nations) of a Players Association Representative who will relieve pressure that Heath currently has in the absence of such representation. This Players Representative must be elected without the interference of the ZCU, as this person is there to represent the Player body and their issues. Only recently has the ZCU agreed to the shared financing of this Representative with the Players.
3 - Minimum Wage
We are aware that Heath has proposed that there be a Minimum Wage for all the Players contracted with the ZCU. We were particularly heartened by this move made by Heath as it is not an issue that affects him personally as his contract terms (being a senior Player and Captain) has been favourable. This was an initiative that he had undertaken on behalf of all Players regardless of race and in particular on behalf of young up-and-coming Players. As far as we are aware the Board has not given this issue it's urgent attention. Some youngsters are ending their six-month Contracts and others are at crossroads in making alternative career choices. Therefore, it is with great urgency that the ZCU identify future Players and incorporate them into long-term plans. We should stress that many of us are holding favourable Contracts in terms of finance and our concern is not to improve our own conditions but rather those of our teammates who are not presently on livable wages considering the inflation rate that prevails. We would also like to encourage young people to identify with Cricket as a career option.
4 - National League Cricket
We propose that National League Cricket be reinstated in the forthcoming season and that Clubs be given financial support to enable the upkeep of their infrastructure, which are in dire straits. We are deeply concerned by the collapse of some cricketing establishments, especially at Government school level and believe that money should be directed this way to secure the future of the Game. The unnecessary expenditure of Board Member Overseas Travel could, we believe be channeled into more important areas ( eg the survival of Clubs in Zimbabwe and scholarship programmes).
5 - Refusal to meet with Heath
Heath has advised us that he has during the last few weeks requested meetings with Board Members and in particular the Chairman of the ZCU to discuss the abovementioned concerns and that he was advised that neither the Chairman nor some Board Members found it necessary to meet with him. Once again we have no reason to doubt his word on this matter as he has expressed his frustration in this regard both to Mr Hogg and ourselves on frequent occasions. Indeed the manner in which Heath was treated last Friday, by not being afforded the courtesy as National Team Captain of a hearing with the Board (before they decided to terminate his services) confirms in our minds the contempt with which we are viewed and treated by certain elements of the Board. This comes as a particular surprise as Heath has continually supported and defended the ZCU along with giving 10 years of service and dedication to his country. Seemingly, despite being Zimbabwe's leading test wicket taker of all time, no effort was made to dissuade Heath to reconsider his position in the future of Zimbabwe Cricket.
6 - A minority controlling the Board
We are reliably advised that the decision taken on Friday to terminate Heath's Contract was made by 3 Board members. We further understand that these 3 members of the Board effectively bulldozed other Board members into accepting their position. We do not believe such action to be in the interests of Cricket and must in fact have been motivated by a non-sporting and personal agenda. We are deeply concerned that such a momentous decision was taken in the absence of esteemed and wise Board members such as Mr Justice Ebrahim, Mr Clive Barnes and Mr Kevin Arnott. The later incidentally, excused himself late in the meeting prior to Heath's issues being tabled. Furthermore, we fail to understand why Heath's issues were tabled at the end of the meeting under "Any Other Business". In our view, this was an extremely important matter and it would seem the decision was rushed through with no window being allowed for further discussions with Heath or for other opinions to be sought. It would seem that Heath's views were also mis-represented in this meeting.
7 - Intimidation of Players and Cricket Journalist
We have been made aware that at least one black journalist Mehluli Sibanda and at least one black Player (who has asked us not to reveal his name for his own safety) have been phoned and threatened by a member of the Board not to side with Heath.
We suspect that other black members of the Team have been phoned and threatened in the same manner. We strongly object to this conduct which is not only unlawful but completely against the spirit of Cricket.
8 - Threats
We have been reliably informed that a Provincial General Manager and Chairman of a Province both threatened to Boycott the fourth ODI vs. Bangladesh, along with making threats of a "Pitch Invasion and Digging up the Wicket" at Harare Sports Club. This was due to the Teams racial balance which they felt contained too few Players of colour. This Team was selected on Merit by the National Selection Panel and ratified by the Vice-Chairman of the ZCU along with being released to the Media. It was only after 5 hours of persuasion going well into the night, that the Vice Chairman managed to convince the above not to carry out their threats. The 5 hours of persuasion not to follow through with threats made is in direct contrast to the way the ZCU handled Heaths concerns!! This is even more ironic bearing in mind, Heath was trying to improve the State of Cricket in Zimbabwe rather than to destroy it as the above appeared to be.
9 - Questionable Practices
Once again, we have been reliably informed (and can be officially verified by that source if necessary) that a Board member suggested during the above selection meeting that Mark Vermuelen be offered "a double match fee, NOT to play" in the ODI that he'd already been selected for and been informed of!! The suggestion was made to try and pave the way for Stuart Matsikanyeri, who had been dropped, to play. It was only after the National Coach and Heath refused to be involved in dealings that would bring the Game of Cricket into disrepute (ICC Code of Conduct), that the suggestion was retracted.
We are in this regard deeply aware of the fact that this document may only be signed by white Players who are less susceptible to these threats and that our action will be portrayed as racist. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all deeply patriotic, to Zimbabwe Cricket, to all our colleagues and to Zimbabwean cricket supporters of all races. However, we refuse to bow to this unacceptable conduct and we trust that reasonable members of the Board and the ICC will support our stance.
We believe we have done everything possible in the last two weeks to find an amicable solution to this matter. Two Representatives and our Lawyer met with the ZCU Lawyer on the 2nd April. It was agreed that everything possible would be done to try and solve our differences. On the 6th April, we met with the Chairman of the Board, Mr Hogg and the ZCU's Legal Representative. We spent three hours in this meeting and it was agreed that a Negotiation Party be formed to meet with the ZCU later in that week. On the 9th April, a Negotiation Committee was formed and we met with the Board at 3:30pm on this day. We tabled an Agenda where the main objectives were to improve dialogue and to voice concerns about a suitable selection criteria and issues surrounding Heath's unfair dismissal.
From the outset, the meeting was conducted in an extremely hostile environment with insinuations made by some individuals within the Board that our Negotiation Committee had a hidden agenda. One member of the Board stormed out of this meeting and others were very animated and aggressive during proceedings. The ZCU Lawyer, excused himself from the proceedings early, even though our meeting was premised on the basis that the ZCU Lawyer would be present throughout all negotiations.
The Board then issued instructions that aggrieved Players must fulfill their Easter weekend First Class Fixtures despite these players having already been given permission earlier that morning by their direct boss, Mr Hogg to stand down for the weekend fixtures, in the interest of seeking closure on negotiations. The Board said that any player who did not make himself available for play the following morning would be held "in breach of Contract", and that Managing Director Mr Hogg had no "authority" to act as he did in granting their exclusion from the weekend's fixtures. Aside from being contradictory with Mr. Hogg's assurance that the players could stand down, this ultimatum was not we felt, in the spirit of negotiation.
We believe the sole issues of discussion at this meeting were:
It is completely incorrect, that 9 and a half out of 10 issues (tabled at the meeting) were met as the Chairman of the ZCU has stated (on foreign Television). The ZCU merely agreed to look into the selection issue, the majority of our issues were canvassed at length but on the two most important issues, in our view, no agreement was reached. Our collective position is, we remain committed to the possibility of rectifying the current state of affairs. However, we believe given the lack of goodwill between the stakeholders, that dialogue through an independent mediating body (at a neutral venue) is the only way forward in finding an amicable and acceptable position for both the ZCU and aggrieved Players.
We have been placed in an invidious position by the developments of the last week. Cricket is our entire life and we all consider it a great honour to have been able to represent our Country. However, if we do not make a stand in support of our Captain and the Team we believe that incalculable damage will be done to the Game.
We believe that politics should play no part in Sport and that the ZCU has fallen prey to a small clique of people who do not have the interests of Cricket at heart but are simply motivated by non-sporting considerations. Remembering that the ZCU have often stated that they are an apolitical organization.
In all the circumstances we believe that we have no option but to collectively stand up for our principles.
We do not want a situation, where we are forced to review our positions with the ZCU, and to this end we would like to seek further dialogue in the suggested manner. We are deeply conscious of the effect that non-closure would have on the Game not only in Zimbabwe but also throughout the world, and believe that unless we take action the cancer that is eroding the Game in Zimbabwe will not be dealt with. If the Board gives an undertaking to resolve seriously and in the immediate future, what we consider to be the reasonable issues of concern raised by Heath and by us in this document, then we will all immediately reconsider our positions.
Finally we appeal to the Chairman of the ZCU, the reasonable remainder of the Board and members of the ICC to act against those on the ZCU Board who have been responsible, in our view, for these very distressing developments.
We all look forward to the day when we can once again represent Zimbabwe in a fair and transparent environment for the Game we are all so passionate about.
Harare Monday 12th April 2004
Signed: The Players
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala