Zimbabwe players' association speaks out

There has been a lot of activity in recent weeks with regard to the players, the terms and conditions of their employment, selection, the Task Force report and the future of cricket in general. Zimbabwe's professional cricketers have now come out in the open on a number of issues.

Colin Blythe-Wood, on behalf of the Zimbabwe Professional Cricketers Association, this week made public a letter the association sent to the Zimbabwe Cricket Union president Peter Chingoka. Six copies of the letter were also sent to the Integration Task Force.

The letter summarized the matters that have been addressed in the immediate past and set out the framework for better liaison between the players and administration in the future. It also set out the ZPCA response to the Task Force report on the integration of cricket.

The players have been unhappy with several issues for some time, with the main problems being the terms and conditions of their employment and the poor liaison between the players and cricket administrators. According to ZPCA, the discontent has resulted in fixtures and tours being jeopardized, as well as anger and frustration for both players and executives. The players believe that the below-par performances on the field of play have been a result of such discontent.

When ZPCA was put in place, a representative was appointed to act as a liaison officer between the association and ZCU. A remuneration committee has been revived to review and discuss present terms and conditions, especially where problems have arisen. It will motivate the payment of the share of profits for the six months to February 2001. It will also ensure that the calculations and payment of the share of profits for the six months from March to August 2001 are carried out as quickly as possible after August 31. The committee comprises a chairman and a representative each from the players and the ZCU.

On the issue of team selection, the players said that the resignation of captain Heath Streak on the first day of the Coca-Cola Cup last month was a result of the inability of the coach and captain to influence selection. They state that they have never insisted that the coach and captain be on the full-time selection panel.

"All we ask for is that the two of them are involved in the process in an open, frank and constructive way," read the letter. "After all, they are the two people responsible for the performance on the field and so they should be involved in the procedure to determine who they are coaching and captaining."

On the issue of integration, the players say that they are fully behind the Task Force recommendations, except for the issue of having a quota system in the team. "The first point that must be made by us is that we believe that the future success of cricket in this country depends on the extent to which we are able to involve the black community in the game. We have to take cricket to the population at large and popularise the sport.

"It will grow and prosper as a sport only if it becomes a game that has the support and active involvement of the black majority. Here, and in other larger cricket-playing nations, it is a minority sport. For the growing success of the game we must widen its appeal and popularity. There is only one area in which we disagree with the Task Force report, and that may be one of interpretation. While we accept and support the report, we do not believe in a system that is not based on merit, i.e., a quota system. This has not worked anywhere in the world.

"What we believe will not help is forcing players into the teams to fulfil quotas and make up numbers. This will create stress and problems for both the players who are left out even though they have more ability, and for the players who are included but cannot perform at the required level. This is what will lead to personal and racial tension, and it will be because of a misguided policy based on racial practice. We do not believe you correct a wrong by perpetuating a wrong - that simply exacerbates the problem.

"What we will not support is a racially motivated quota system, not based on merit. We will support a system where, in the case of players of equal ability, the selection goes to the black player as opposed to the white or Asian one. We do not support a selection process where a player of clearly inferior quality or form is chosen ahead of an alternative player of clearly superior quality or form, whatever the racial group of the first player.

"This is patently unfair and unconstitutional, and will lead to the demise of cricket and the reversal of all the admirable goals of the past ten years or more. If the next World Cup side is made up of 11 black players, and they are the best players in the country, we will support the team wholeheartedly. The better solution is to correct the wrong by giving help and assistance to the person or group that has been wronged, by means of support, advice, financial security and incentives, coaching and opportunity. The ZCU now has the resources to do this, and should use its resources generously."

The players say that they do not need political agendas and selfish aims of a few people to prevail over the sensible good work and steady progress that has been achieved by the many people who have been involved in the past. We do not pretend that everything has been done properly. We know that mistakes have been made, and we acknowledge that the players have contributed their share of errors. We have to be less selfish about our own needs.

"We have to be more nurturing and sensitive to the needs of the younger players, especially the black players who are under pressure, both financially and in terms of performance. The senior players have already resolved to be more caring and considerate to the junior players. They are the future of the game and we know we have to pass on, to them, a proud heritage."

The players also note with regret the big gap between club cricket and national cricket. "We understand the ZCU is already dealing with this. What is needed are more Board XI games and A-team games. This will give the second and third-ranked groupings of players much-needed experience at a higher level and will bridge the gap between club and national cricket."