It is heartening to hear that the International Cricket Council has decided to go ahead with the 2003 World Cup matches in both Zimbabwe and Kenya and the decision has been duly welcomed by Dr. Ali Bacher, the chief organiser of the tournament.
I am not a politician but it appears to me slightly less than intelligent to argue that the England and Australia teams face any very grave security threat in either country, a threat that may be perceived to be specifically targeted at them.
The opposition in Zimbabwe is in the good books of the government and press in both countries and it would, I think, be an act of singular political idiocy to hurt cricketers of the very countries that are sympathetic to your cause. In fact, by this logic, it would make much more sense if it was said that there is a security risk to teams such as India and Pakistan, whose governments have decided not to involve themselves in what is, after all, an internal matter of Zimbabwe. Yet, even these teams have not faced any problems in Zimbabwe, Pakistan having toured the country only six weeks ago and, apparently, enjoyed the tour immensely.
The moral argument against Zimbabwe is also pretty thin. There are any number of other governments whose human rights records are no better than Zimbabwe's and some who make Mugabe look like an amateur. Compared to the whirlwind century Ariel Sharon [Israel's defence minister in 1982] knocked up in Chatilla [a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon], poor Mugabe has not yet got into double figures! Yet an Israeli under-21 football team was welcomed and played in England last year without even a murmur from the government or Football Association -- the same FA which ruled out a football tour of Zimbabwe.
In any case, morality is by no means the exclusive ruling domain of England and Australia, both countries heavily supporting the impending mayhem in Iraq, while the obvious inference that countries like Pakistan, India, Holland and Namibia, who will be playing in Zimbabwe, are somehow devoid of such high moral values.
The 'morality' of the Zimbabwe situation lies in the eviction of the white farmers, most of them of British origin, and handing over their lands to landless black Zimbabweans. Indeed, if there is anything particularly 'moral' about a visibly foreign two per cent owning 74 per cent of the choicest farmlands in a country, I must say it has missed me by a country mile. I wonder what would happen if the Asian population in the UK, which stands at almost five per cent, would take over three-quarters of the best farmlands; the mind boggles at the prospect!
But if indeed it is a matter of 'morality', no matter how selective the morality may be, or of some grave security threat to their players, England should just go ahead and express their inability to play in Zimbabwe as indeed both Australia and the West Indies did in 1996, when they refused to play in Sri Lanka, and as news just received suggests New Zealand have refused to play in Kenya, forfeiting their points. The points, in all these instances, were or will be lost, but surely that must be less important than any serious threat to the lives of their players or any principle of morality.
There is also a financial matter involved, but many private organisations in England have said that they will raise the money to meet any damage the ICC may claim of the ECB if England do not turn up in Zimbabwe. So that is probably taken care of. In any case, the sum involved is not of such magnitude that "moral principles" have to be sacrificed.
In fact, the entire thrust of the England Cricket Board and the England players seems to be to get the match shifted so that it can be played at a neutral venue, which would mean that England not only do not lose any points, but also nullify Zimbabwe's home advantage. Although I would be willing to admit that may not be the main purpose of their reluctance to play in Zimbabwe, it is a rather useful advantage to be picked up on the way, one which could serve them very well, particularly in a tight group like the one in which they find themselves, where, in order to have any chance of getting to the Super Sixes, they have to beat Zimbabwe and either India or Pakistan.
When moral values and security concerns become subject to such worldly considerations, they do not attract a great deal of sympathy or, for that matter, respect. The ICC does not always get things right, but this time it has been spot on -- and in doing so, has, perhaps, averted a racial split in cricket, if only for the time being.
With attitudes of the type that the British press and its players have shown, the chances of such a split are heightened, and in the long run the ICC would be well advised to base itself in a neutral country if it is to be immune from such awkward pressures.
Asif Iqbal is a former captain of Pakistan and Kent.
Courtesy: News International