The Zimbabwe crisis November 17, 2005

Time to act for the good of the game

Martin Williamson says hat the ICC has the power to make a real difference in Zimbabwe ... but whether it will is another matter entirely

Should the ICC get involved or is this another local issue? Let us know what you think. And click here for a selection of the feedback you have already sent ...

Tatenda Taibu: showed courage to stand up to authority and was threatened for his pains © Getty Images

Recent events in Zimbabwe have been remarkable even by that troubled country's own standards. What started with a dispute over player contracts quickly escalated into something far more serious, culminating last week with Tatenda Taibu, their young captain, being forced into hiding after threats against his family, and Peter Chingoka, the chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket, being questioned by police investigating serious financial allegations levelled against the board.

While this might, on the surface, seem to be a continuation of the disruption caused by the rebel strike in 2004, a closer look quickly reveals that it is far more serious than that. The oft-repeated claims that Zimbabwe's all-invasive political system had no influence on the way the game was run - which were dubious at best - have been blown away. Sport and politics not only mix in Zimbabwe, they are inexorably entwined, and that is now clear for all to see.

Of the considerable feedback we have received on the crisis, almost all of it has asked one question. What is the ICC doing? The sad reality is that cricket's governing body appears to be resolutely entrenched on the sidelines.

The ICC's own constitution precludes it from becoming involved in what is primarily a domestic matter unless it is invited to do so by that country's legitimately-appointed board. But regardless of the legal niceties, there comes a time when the good of the game - and the cricket world at large - demands action.

When a national captain is forced into hiding by threats made against his family by someone who has been brought in as some kind of enforcer by the national board, then it should concern the ICC. When all the provincial chairmen of a country produce a detailed document highlighting some serious governance and financial issues, then it should concern the ICC. When almost all the professional players of a Test-playing country are prepared to stand up and accuse their own board of intimidation and demand the resignation of the chairman and managing director, then it should concern the ICC.

That it doesn't is a source of considerable frustration inside Zimbabwe. And, let's remember, speaking out in Zimbabwe often has serious consequences. It takes bravery to buck the system. The shame is that the ICC appears to lack similar courage.

What does it fear? Well, mainly that the comfortable status quo might be rocked. It has steadfastly refused to entertain suggestions that Zimbabwe's international credentials needed reviewing in the light of continual drubbings, and, rather like a stuffy club which turns away new members but defends its own through thick and thin, it is now opting for a policy of doing nothing and hoping it all goes away. Chingoka has friends among the powerbrokers in other countries and they are loathe to turn on their own.

The one investigation the ICC did carry out into allegations of racism, 13 months ago, was, in many people's eyes, flawed and produced little of substance. Buoyed by that, any trouble inside Zimbabwe has immediately and shamelessly been labelled as racial by the board ever since. It is a trump card which has been played repeatedly and effectively. But, as Taibu was at pains to explain last week, this is not about race. A look at those railing against the establishment would make that clear.

Malcolm Speed in Harare in 2004 when he was humiliatingly turned away by ZC officials © AFP

That hasn't stopped the board using one of its newest recruits - Themba Mliswa - from lambasting Taibu for participating in "petty racial wars fomented by a known clique of the Asian and white groups in Zimbabwean cricket." It should be noted that the main national paper, the Herald carried no mention of the players' statement, but gave Mliswa limitless exposure. And it is the very involvement of people like Mliswa that should be worrying the ICC.

With no cricketing credentials but plenty of political links to the ruling Zanu-PF party - his repossessed farm came courtesy of that association - he has suddenly appeared as the chairman of the newly-created Mashonaland West province (one of five rushed into being by a board desperate to give itself enough votes to outgun the established provinces) and caused a storm of controversy. He has disrupted a meeting of the chairmen, allegedly making political and racial threats against them, and it was he who phoned Taibu. With Chingoka and his sidekick Ozias Bvute under fire and busy helping the police, Mliswa has become the unofficial voice of Zimbabwe Cricket. The ICC are fully aware of his troubled past, and a quick Google of his name will show what kind of man he is.

By bringing him in, Chingoka has shown how desperate the situation has become and how the ruling elite will do whatever it takes to cling to power. It has reached a stage where anything goes.

While the ICC, rightly, cannot busy itself with every local dispute, what is happening inside Zimbabwe has far greater implications for world cricket. It has a duty to alert its membership to the crisis and to be proactive in helping to broker a solution before the situation becomes even messier. The ICC is largely a reactive beast, but without breaking its own constitution, its senior officials, especially Ehsan Mani and Malcolm Speed, can use their considerable influence to inform and advise those running the game. If the world cricket community demands action, then the ICC will be empowered to act, but the one certainty is that that community will not lift a finger without coaxing.

If, however, the ICC continues, in spite of all the information it has, to refuse getting involved, either privately or publicly, then serious questions have to asked as to what the point of it is. Cricket cannot afford to be sullied by this kind of shameful situation, and that is exactly what the ICC should be looking to resolve.

Should the ICC get involved or is this another local issue? Let us know what you think

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo