The debate on whether World Cup matches should take place in Zimbabwe was shaped by two interesting developments last weekend. Firstly, the New Zealand government has requested the International Cricket Council (through the NZ Cricket Board) to transfer Zimbabwe's matches elsewhere on the grounds of Zimbabwe's abysmal human rights record, despite the fact that New Zealand itself will not be playing in Zimbabwe.
Secondly, Olympic gold medallist and British peer Sebastian Coe wrote an excellent piece on Cricinfo, arguing that since the politicians themselves are not taking a public stance against Zimbabwe, it is unreasonable of them to ask cricketers to do so. Coe urges the England and Wales Cricket Board to go ahead and play in Zimbabwe but it was not his argument that got my attention as much as his observation of the double standards being employed by British politicians. I finally realized what's been bothering me about this whole debate.
If cricket shouldn't be played in Zimbabwe on account of its human rights record, then why is Pakistan any different? At least Zimbabwe's ruler Robert Mugabe confines his terrorism within his own borders. Yet, despite taking the moral high ground against Zimbabwe, New Zealand, England and Australia have no moral qualms about playing in Pakistan.
Similarly, while the Indian government won't play in Pakistan, it has said nothing about playing in Zimbabwe. Even worse, Board of Control for Cricket in India president Jagmohan Dalmiya came out with the callous statement, 'It doesn't concern us.' Can he possibly be so heartless? Human rights violations concern everyone everywhere, and if simple humanity is not a good enough cause for concern, then how about this: can we expect the world to take us seriously about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism when we turn a cold-blooded, blind eye to terrorism elsewhere?
The situation in Zimbabwe is undoubtedly horrifying. Thus, if some nations choose not to play there on reasons of principle, then they should hold Pakistan, another repressive dictatorship that additionally sponsors terrorism abroad, to the same standard. Principles, by definition, apply across different cases and these countries can't take the moral high ground if they don't stay perched there on other instances.
The other ingredient in the mix though is the plight of Zimbabwe's cricket. Just when it looked like truly entering the big leagues, the Zimbabwe team was hit by the departures of Murray Goodwin and Neil Johnson, both of whom chose financial security over national pride. This coincided with an awful outbreak of racial politics, and the fortunes and quality of Zimbabwe's cricket went into a tailspin from which it shows no signs of recovering.
And that, to me, is the strongest argument for playing in Zimbabwe. As a cricket fan, I'm dismayed by Zimbabwe's fall and pray for it to get back on track. Zimbabwe cricket needs the money the World Cup will bring in; and its economy desperately needs the tourist income.
Sadly, you can bet every dollar, rand, rupee and pound to be spent there that Mugabe also has his eye on the profits and has a plan to pocket some of them. Mugabe is a cunning politician; the impressive string of Ph D's and other letters after his name indicate his intelligence. But he is also desperately power-hungry and is, after all, one of those unique leaders (along with Kenya's Moi and Congo's Mobutu) for whom a new word was invented: the Kleptocrat, i e governance by theft.
Let's also not delude ourselves that boycotting Zimbabwe will change Mugabe's policies. I'm sure the likes of Uma Bharti are equally aware that not touring Pakistan has no influence on the numbers of mujahideen crossing the LoC. Nevertheless, on principle, I support the government's decision not to tour Pakistan because of its terror-brokering. Regardless of efficacy, it is a laudable moral stance.
But is Zimbabwe any different, or should the same principles apply there too? The decision isn't an easy one to take, and I myself am undecided. But we should avoid the double standards that are at play. If we go to Zimbabwe, then given the notion that human rights violations are a global issue, we should also tour Pakistan for there is little difference between the two.
However, the flip side is also valid. The Vajpayee government now has a great opportunity to tell the world it is serious when it claims Pakistan sponsors terrorism. By preventing the team from playing in Zimbabwe, it can send a strong message that India is committed to her battle against terrorism, and is willing to uphold her principles regardless of where and how terrorism occurs.