'I don't wield power over the fortunes of men'

Zimbabwe Cricket's CEO talks about why, contrary to popular belief, he isn't the man who pulls the strings in the country's cricket administration

Ozias Bvute has been a controversial figure over the years of his association with the Zimbabwe board. He was appointed in 2001 to the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union as the head of its Integration Implementation Committee. He took on the role of the board's head of marketing, and rose to the rank of managing director in 2004. Long thought of as the man who wields the real power within the board - a charge he strenuously denies here - Bvute, in one of the very few interviews he has given, speaks about being refused entry into Australia to attend an ICC meeting, reacts to allegations about Zimbabwe Cricket being politicised, and looks back at the board's conflicts with players over the decade.

"Zimbabwe Cricket, like any other organisation, is made up of people who have various political views. I do not enquire of these views as it is not my business" © Wisden
Are you, as has been implied, the real power behind the throne inside Zimbabwe Cricket?
It baffles me how I can be regarded as such. As CEO, I am an employee of the board. As the head of the ZC executive, I am responsible to the board for the day-to-day management of the organisation.
I formulate no policy myself and only sit on the board in an ex officio capacity, in keeping with the dictates of corporate governance. To ascribe to me powers that I cannot have in a professional organisation such as ZC is not only erroneous but an insult to the men and women who sit on the board and their constituencies.
It should be remembered that the process of enacting the current ZC constitution involved a wide spectrum of consultations and the draft passed through the then ICC CEO and president, who gave their input to bring the document into line with international best practice.
How would you respond to accusations that the board is, in fact, not democratic and has been purged of all opposition?
It baffles the mind that the word "purge" is used when no one was excluded from putting their names into the hat during the electoral process by approaching their clubs for nomination into provincial structures and thereafter the national board.
It's a fact that given the population demographics of the country, the majority of players and club officials are black, and so nominations coming from these clubs are predominantly black.
It's very flattering and intoxicating to be told that you wield power over the fortunes of men. Occasionally I wish that was so, but sadly it is not.
It has often been said that the board is a political body, taking orders from and implementing the policies of the government, and that your arrival accelerated that process.
Allow me to point out that my entry into cricket did not politicise the ZC board. For me to politicise the board would have meant bringing in political figures to run cricket in furtherance of their political ends.
You can look at any board that I have been a part of and on none of them has there been a person holding political office. To the contrary, the boards have comprised lawyers, educators, farmers and businessmen.
For you to best understand where cricket in Zimbabwe currently stands, I would like to give you some historical background. Please understand that any reference to black and white is not meant to be racial but is simply factual.
The greatest concentration of whites in Rhodesia was in 1975, when there were about 250,000 whites. As the war intensified, that number began to dwindle until settlement in 1979 and independence in 1980. It was reduced further by a massive emigration fuelled by white uncertainty over their future under a black dispensation.
Faced with the harsh reality of its sport threatened with extinction through dwindling numbers of its populace, the board of the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union decided, in 2001, to integrate cricket so that it could draw players from the majority [black] population of 13 million and infuse them with those from the remaining white population. This would create a national team whose membership reflected the racial diversity of Zimbabwe. In 2001, despite the racial composition of the country - 200,000 whites against 13 million blacks - only three blacks were in the national team and two on the board.
The board set up a task force to deal with the integration. The process was methodical. The Integration Task Force drew up a voluminous and thorough document that was the roadmap to integration. It was the work of countless meetings that were not grounded in emotion but reality. Notwithstanding the history of the country and the deprivation caused by its racist government and institutions, the task force was emphatic that there was to be no malice and no vengeance in this move to change Zimbabwe cricket for the good, indeed the survival, of the game and for the nation.
The integration document caused a lot of anxiety among the white players and their parents, and yet it was not supposed to do so. Allegations of quotas were totally unfounded as the task force never dictated numbers but worked on an evolutionary process that aimed at a gradual increase in the numbers of black players making it to the national teams as the board proceeded with its development programme that generated throughout.
"I can understand that, given the current state of our supposed playing standard, we are more prone to scrutiny than others, but it would not surprise me if a check of all the boards of the ICC Full Member countries showed ZC's to be the most apolitical"
Why were there disputes between factions then?
Misunderstandings did arise in the implementation of the programme, and a year later some of the white players rebelled against the administration. But this was not the first-ever such act by the players. It was just the first since integration began.
Then in 2004, Zimbabwe had its first-ever loss to Bangladesh at Harare Sports Club and the captain and selectors felt that the person responsible was Stuart Matsikenyeri. But the administrators of the then Mashonaland Cricket Association, who were predominantly black, said they would not allow the team to take to the field against Bangladesh without Matsikenyeri and were even prepared to dig up the pitch. Thankfully, sense prevailed.
A few days after the series ended, Heath Streak resigned as captain and the board accepted that resignation. The other white players then walked out en masse, saying that the selection process was not fair.
But this was not the first rebellion. In England years before, a then predominantly white side walked out en masse saying their salaries were less than that of a bus driver in the United Kingdom. The then board had to bring in Lord Weeden to chair talks with the players.
A few years later, this time in the West Indies, there was another stalemate, with the players saying they no longer wanted Dave Houghton as coach. These are just two incidents in a litany of unbridled player power gone awry.
Such was their power there were even camps within the players, referred to as "Royal Families", which included the likes of Andy and Grant Flower and Alistair Campbell.
I fail to understand how another player uprising under my watch is now seen as evidence of my being political.
At every moment, ZC maintained an open-door policy. After the 2004 incident, we set up a Dispute Resolution Committee chaired by a prominent legal practitioner, Addington Chinake, which made progress such that most of the players returned to play.
But that wasn't the end of it, was it?
Player power was to return when we played New Zealand in Bulawayo and lost a Test match in two days. We then sat down and said that as part of the remedial measures we were going to change contracts to make them performance-based. That set up another fight between the then players association and the board.
During that series, the board held its annual general meeting in Bulawayo and unanimously dismissed the coach, Phil Simmons, the manager and the selectors. That set up a new fight with the administrators [of the associations], who felt their grip on power was loosening, using players to fight their cause. They also alleged that we were changing the contract structure because we had misused ZC money.
It was the old trick of throwing as much mud as possible in the hope that some of it would stick.

"We have always believed in our players, and continue to believe in them" © AFP
Among these allegations were those of breaching the country's foreign currency regulations, which brought in the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe [RBZ]. Indeed there were violations, but these stretched to as far back as 1982 and so the courts convicted the body corporate.
Their other trick was to try to make the board ungovernable, and so those discontented administrators, who were board members, boycotted duly convened meetings.
The country's supreme sports regulatory authority, the Sports and Recreation Commission [SRC], was then forced to step in. You may want to find out who was keen for the SRC to be involved. It was certainly not me!
Having come in, the SRC used simple logic to break the impasse. On the basis that they had shown their goodwill to run the game, the Commission appointed onto an interim committee those members of the old board who had continued to come to meetings during the standoff. It added to that number other stakeholders.
If the SRC involvement in cricket was political because the organisation was set up by an Act of Parliament, was it political when the SRC was invited? In which case, those who invited it should accept blame for "politicising" the game, or did the involvement become political only because of the decision the SRC reached? In which case the accusation of politicisation should be dismissed as sour grapes.
As one of the terms of reference for the interim committee, a new constitution was drawn up which paved the way for a new democratically elected board inclusive of all the country's 10 provincial associations.
But it is claimed that elected board contained political figures.
Frankly speaking, ZC, like any other organisation, is made up of people who have various political views. I do not enquire of these views as it is not my business. In the same way as it is not your business to enquire about Giles Clarke's political affiliations. And it is not important. Democracy is founded on choice and whatever that choice is, it remains the prerogative of that individual.
In my own case, the truth of the matter is that, like every Zimbabwean, I will comment on issues, whether good or bad, that concern me. But I am not a politician and do not wish to be one. It goes beyond fiction for me to have a conversation with a journalist or player and afterwards tell them which political party I support.
Martin, you may as a British citizen be a Conservative or member of New Labour and I as an individual respect that. But for me to go out and, without cross-checking with you, start saying that just by the way you write you belong to this or that party is surely stretching matters.
For the record, undoubtedly Zanu-PF has been the dominant player on the Zimbabwe political stage before and after independence. Thus, it is not surprising that, at one time, the suggestion was made that the then prime minister be patron of the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union, and a largely white board unanimously accepted the nomination, sent him the invitation and vigorously campaigned for his acceptance. The letter is on file.
I can understand that, given the current state of our supposed playing standard, we are more prone to scrutiny than others, but it would not surprise me if a check of all the boards of the ICC Full Member countries showed ZC's to be the most apolitical.
If you are, as you say, apolitical, why were you and Peter Chingoka recently banned from entering Australia by the government there?
It's unfair to judge without trial. It is unfair to judge on the basis of innuendo. Your readers may know that until last year Nelson Mandela remained on the United States list of terrorists. A Nobel Peace Prize winner and a worldwide symbol of freedom a terrorist! And his democratically elected South African ruling party, the African National Congress, was classified as a terrorist organisation!
The lesson to draw from that is that one does not change one's principles simply on the basis of some people's reaction to them. If the principles are right, in time the holder will be vindicated.
If on the basis that I have fought for cricket to be a multi-racial sport I should be banned from entering certain countries, then I sleep with a clear conscience. Clearly it is better to be banned when I believe in the justice of my principle than to change that principle in return for entry.
What is your vision of the future for Zimbabwe cricket?
I am committed that in the not-so-distant future Zimbabwe takes its hard-earned place on the ICC ODI and Test rankings and that you and I will sit together then and have a drink and wonder about the years of disbelief, distortion and discouragement.
"If on the basis that I have fought for cricket to be a multi-racial sport I should be banned from entering certain countries, then I sleep with a clear conscience"
Sport is a cycle. Those on top will not always be there. Thus, Zimbabwe will not always be at the bottom. Our assumption of the dizzy heights may not happen in our lifetime but I am happy that we have laid the foundation for Zimbabwe teams to be selected from all over the country, regardless of race, colour or creed.
To help take the local game where we want it to go, we need the support, knowledge and assistance of the international cricket community. To promote cricket in Zimbabwe, Cricinfo can help by giving its readers a balanced analysis of what Zimbabwe Cricket is trying to achieve.
I am not asking for blinkered praise for our cricket, but there are many people who, on a daily basis, work with me in difficult circumstances to build the game in this country. It is only fair that their achievements be recognised.
Just this last season, I have watched with great pleasure the spinning abilities of Prosper Utseya and Ray Price, noted with pride Tatenda Taibu's selection for the Indian Premier League, noticed the dedication and improvement that Elton [Chigumbura] is showing in both his batting and bowling, the prowess of Hamilton [Masakadza] with the willow and the abundant all-round promise in Sean Williams.
But even as I enjoyed all that, I have continued to work with my management and staff to ensure that, next season and the others to come, the game will remain accessible to anyone who wants to play it.
This is because, long after the fanfare over Zimbabwe politics is ended, cricket will still be played here.
At the ICC meeting recently, the report into the state of the game said that it could be up to two years before Zimbabwe was ready to resume playing Test cricket. Is that reasonable?
We still have some work to do with regards to returning to Test cricket, I think the time frame that all our stakeholders are agreeable on is anything between six months and two years. We will, however, endeavour to ensure that it will be under two years. So the ICC comment is fair and we do not dispute it.
Finally, how heartened have you been by recent results?
I am obviously pleased that the boys are starting to show maturity. We have always believed in them and continue to believe in them. We think that if they continue to play competitive cricket more regularly, their standard will be at a level where we will all be happy.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa