Zimbabwe news October 16, 2015

Mark Vermeulen banned by ZC for racist comment

Mark Vermeulen had played nine Tests and 43 ODIs for Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2014 © Associated Press

Zimbabwe batsman Mark Vermeulen has been banned from all cricket by Zimbabwe Cricket after it emerged that he had engaged in a racist tirade on social media during which he referred to black Zimbabweans as "apes".

"Racism is abominable and there can be no defence for it," said a statement released by Zimbabwe Cricket. "Mark Vermeulen has been banned from participating in all cricket activities, after he owned up to repulsive remarks that reflect racism, prejudice and plain ignorance. We find Vermeulen's Facebook comment distasteful and unacceptable, particularly for a senior sportsman who should have learned from playing in Zimbabwe and abroad that there is no place for racism in sport."

Vermeulen had posted his comment in July, on a thread underneath an article posted on Facebook about Prosper Utseya's letter to the ZC Board, which alleged that racism persisted in Zimbabwean cricket. Though Vermeulen subsequently deleted the comment, a screenshot eventually made its way into the public sphere, again on social media.

ESPNcricinfo has seen the screenshot of the comment, which talked of "white people" having "fxxxd up the apes' lives". "If we... had never educated them, Prosper wouldn't be having these problems," it said.

As the reaction to his comment gathered steam online, it is believed that some members of Vermeulen's domestic franchise, Mashonaland Eagles, insisted they would boycott any team with Vermeulen in it. The administration of the franchise met today to decide how to respond, and this evening it was confirmed that Vermeulen has been banned from all cricket activities by Zimbabwe Cricket.

Vermeulen had issued a public statement, which was reproduced in local newspapers today, and which he called an apology. In it, Vermeulen said that he had apologised personally to Utseya and that "he accepted my apology".

"I know my comments were over the top and I apologise to all that I have offended," continued Vermeulen's statement. "But as a cricketer, it's how our minds work... It was not meant in a menacing way. It was just a chirp that often happens out on the field of play and as men, you take the blow on the chin and get on with the game."

Behavioural and disciplinary issues have long been a problem for Vermeulen, with trouble surfacing as early as his high school days in Harare in the mid-1990s. He was banned from representing his school, Prince Edward High in Harare, for walking off with the stumps after receiving a poor lbw decision and locking himself in the changing room.

His fierce desire to succeed as a cricketer led to a Test debut in 2002, but two years later he was struck on the head by a bouncer from Irfan Pathan at the Gabba, during a tri-series in Australia. The injury, which replicated one he had suffered in 2003, when he was struck on the head by fast bowler Travis Friend while batting in the nets, required urgent surgery, and Vermeulen's behaviour became increasingly erratic. He was banned from playing cricket in England for ten years after an altercation with some spectators during a club game and, most infamously, he burned down Zimbabwe's cricket academy in 2006 in retaliation for being overlooked by the national side.

Vermeulen was acquitted of charges of arson in 2008, on the grounds that he had been suffering psychiatric problems, including partial complex epilepsy and impulsive behaviour disorder, ever since his injury in Australia. Remarkably, Vermeulen returned to international cricket with a one-day half-century against Bangladesh the following year, but his form tailed off and, though he played for every domestic franchise in the country in his efforts to win a national contract, it seemed his days as an international cricketer were over. Yet Vermeulen was called upon once more in 2014, re-selected by coach Steve Mangongo and convener of selectors Givemore Makoni, for a one-off Test against South Africa. There had also been talk that Vermeulen was hoping to win yet another recall for the upcoming series against Bangladesh.

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town