The entire board of Zimbabwe Cricket has been suspended with immediate effect by the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), a government parastatal and the governing organisation of all registered sporting associations in the country. ZC acting managing director Givemore Makoni has also been suspended from his position.
David Ellman-Brown, Ahmed Ibrahim, Charlie Robertson, Cyprian Mandenge, Robertson Chinyengetere, Sekesai Nhokwara and Duncan Frost have been announced as an interim committee to run cricket in the country.
While Ellman-Brown is a highly respected former board chief executive and Ibrahim a former board vice-chairman and ICC match referee, the others in the interim committee also have extensive experience in either sports administration or as professional cricketers or umpires themselves.
The fact that Zimbabwe Cricket is a Full Member of the International Cricket Council does not mean that it is not subject to the laws of Zimbabwe, in particular the provisions of the SRC Act
The SRC's move came a week after it issued a directive that ZC's elective annual general meeting be suspended, alleging complaints about the nomination process and the violation of ZC's constitution, as well as "various other controversies".
However, a resolution was unanimously passed and signed by all the delegates who attended the meeting to proceed as planned. The directive was ignored and Tavengwa Mukuhlani was re-elected for another four-year term as the ZC chairman.
On Wednesday, Mukuhlani spoke to the press and insisted that the directive violated both ZC's constitution and the SRC's own rules, saying: "In its totality, the SRC directive is illegal and SRC are forcing us to follow an illegal instruction." But the SRC's directive was no bluff, and it has now invoked its powers under the terms of the SRC Act.
"The fact that Zimbabwe Cricket is a Full Member of the International Cricket Council does not mean that it is not subject to the laws of Zimbabwe, in particular the provisions of the SRC Act," read a press statement released by the SRC.
While it is obviously subject to the laws of Zimbabwe, ZC is also beholden to the ICC's rules on government meddling in the running of cricket boards, and it wasto these rules that Makoni drew attention in his reply to SRC director general Prince Mupazviriho earlier this week.
Makoni wrote: "Your letter and subsequent actions by way of an SRC board resolution to suspend the ZC elective AGM could be viewed by the ICC as Government interference…"
Quoting the ICC's constitutional rules on such interference, Makoni also warned of the possible consequences, namely, the suspension of Zimbabwe from the ICC. "The gravity of the effects of suspension cannot be overemphasized because once a full member has been suspended and in the event that they are reinstated, there is no guarantee that they will be reinstated as a full member," he wrote.
According to Section 2.4 (D) of the ICC constitution, every member must "manage its affairs autonomously and ensure that there is no government (or other public or quasi-public body) interference in its governance, regulation and/or administration of Cricket in its Cricket Playing Country."
The fiction of Government interference, fed to the International Cricket Council as a red herring only served, perhaps, to underscore the blatant disregard of the SRC's statutory authority by Zimbabwe Cricket
Furthermore, according to Section 2.10 (A), the ICC board of directors "may suspend the membership of a Member with immediate effect where, in the opinion of the Board of Directors (in its absolute discretion), the Member is in serious breach of any of its obligations as a Member."
It is understood that ZC immediately informed the ICC of the SRC directive to suspend their elective AGM, and that the meeting went ahead with ICC backing. However, in a letter sent to Mukuhlani last weekend and seen by ESPNcricinfo, ICC chief executive Manu Sawhney warned that even if the meeting went ahead, as it did, the ICC Board might still suspend ZC, withhold financial support, bar Zimbabwean teams from taking part in ICC events and "suspend the right to attend and/or vote at ICC Board and Full Council Meetings". The ICC's annual conference is due to take place in July.
The vital question appears to be whether the SRC's actions amount to interference in the eyes of the ICC. The SRC's press statement outlined what it termed "the great irony" of ZC seeking government help to service its debts, but then claiming government interference when the SRC subsequently demanded "greater compliance and transparency". It was with the government's help that ZC was able to secure a significant discount on its debts last year, without which ZC would not have been able to fulfil the requirements set out by the ICC for further funding. Had they not been able to do so, Zimbabwe would have been in real danger of suspension from the ICC.
"The fiction of Government interference, fed to the International Cricket Council as a red herring only served, perhaps, to underscore the blatant disregard of the SRC's statutory authority by Zimbabwe Cricket," the SRC statement continued.
"That alleged, and self serving term: 'Government interference' did not, conveniently, exist, when Zimbabwe Cricket sought, and obtained, effectively, a Government guarantee - and public funds - through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe's wholly owned subsidiary, Zimbabwe Asset Management Company (Private) Limited ('ZAMCO'), for the repayment and restructuring of its local and foreign liabilities, including monies owed to the International Cricket Council, in 2018."
For its part, the SRC is also openly asking for the ICC's assistance in helping the interim committee to execute its immediate terms of reference. These include the conducting of a forensic audit "using a firm recommended by the International Cricket Council" into ZC's financial affairs between 2015 and 2018.
Indeed, both the ICC and the SRC have displayed a keen interest in the outcome of such an audit.
Sawhney's letter to Mukuhlani concludes: "Finally, as part of the responsible management of the funding due to ZC from ICC (in accordance with the arrangements put in place after the Annual Conference last year), and in response to these latest concerns, the ICC would be willing to carry out and/or oversee an independent audit of the latest ZC financial statements in order to ascertain the current state of financial health of ZC."
Aside from the audit, the interim committee's mandate includes various other activities, including "to assess all allegations of theft, fraud and corruption", and "to institute the necessary criminal prosecution and/or civil action". The committee will also examine all loans extended to ZC, the processes leading to the recent electoral AGM, and amend provincial constitutions "to ensure that only persons with a verifiable and credible background in cricket and professional administration are eligible for election in provincial structures".
"The interim committee shall, in conjunction with the International Cricket Council, implement and undertake all such measures as shall be required to ensure for Zimbabwe's adherence to its constitutional obligations as set out in the ICC's articles of association," the statement continued, also setting a date for a new ZC board election, "on or before 15th September, 2020".
ESPNcricinfo has contacted the ICC for a comment on the matter.
The men's senior national team is currently on tour in the Netherlands, with the women also set to tour Netherlands before both sides head to Ireland for limited-overs series. The men's side slipped to a 2-0 series defeat in their ODI series against Netherlands on Friday, and they have two T20Is still to come on their trip. It is as yet unclear whether these tours would be affected by the latest developments.
Aside from these bilateral series, both the men's and women's teams are also due to take part in the global qualifiers for the two T20 World Cups. The ICC Women's World T20 Qualifier is due to take place in Scotland in August and September, while the men's qualifying tournament will take place in UAE in October and November. If Zimbabwe are suspended by the ICC, their teams will not be able to take part in these tournaments, or in the T20 World Cups in Australia in 2020.