Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 30th December 2002

Almost the last day of 2002 and the last comment page of the year. I wish everyone a very happy, peaceful and prosperous 2003.

Contents of this page (scroll down the page to see the full text of the article which interests you)

- Zimbabwe and World Cup Cricket (31 Dec 2002)

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Zimbabwe and World Cup Cricket (31 Dec 2002)

The buck-passing continues. The England and Wales Cricket Board continue to insist that unless the government tells them not to go to Zimbabwe, it will be difficult for them to stay away. The International Cricket Council (the ICC, the governing body internationally) says it has no intention of abandoning its plans to hold the World Cup in Zimbabwe. The Conservative Party wants the government to play a bigger role. The England cricket captain (Nasser Hussain) says it is not for him to take a decision which is fundamentally political, when he is 'merely' a sportsman and the same goes for the other cricketers, he says.

Readers of my comment pages will know I don't rate this government very highly, but I tend to share their stance on this issue. They have made it perfectly clear that they would prefer it if the England cricket team does not go to Zimbabwe, but have pointed out (quite correctly) that they have no power to forbid them from going, whilst there are no sanctions against that country. Unfortunately the recent CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) declined to impose sanctions against Zimbabwe; they agreed only to suspend Zimbabwe from its decision-making body, the very least they could have done. One cannot help feeling that if Mr Mugabe had a right-wing  (shall we say 'fascist') stance politically, rather than having a 'Marxist' background, the way in which Zimbabwe as run by Mr Mugabe would be treated would be quite different and a good deal harsher.

It has become clear that what is really behind the England and Wales Cricket Board's (ECB) 'reluctance' to do the right thing and abandon their plans to take the England team to Zimbabwe is that they fear they would lose revenue and perhaps be open to claims of breach of contract whilst the ICC wishes the tournament to go ahead in Zimbabwe. The ECB wish any losses they may suffer to be underwritten by the British government.

Until a few days ago, I was unaware of much of the background of this issue and had effectively 'swallowed' the ECB message, and Nasser Hussain's pleas, that the government needed to take the initiative. I think it is clear, though, that the ECB (and the cricketers themselves) can no longer claim to be unaware of the government's attitude, if they could ever have claimed this in good conscience. I see no reason why the government (and me as a taxpayer, ultimately) should underwrite what is a commercial venture. The cricketers and their governing body will really have to decide for themselves whether they should put short-term commercial imperatives (aka 'greed') first, or whether they should consider the moral implications of appearing to condone the Mugabe regime by allowing themselves to be used as a propaganda tool by him. The ICC will really have to 'wake up and smell the coffee' too.

Incidentally, I heard a recording of Zola Budd on the radio a few days ago. She is the young lady of South African nationality who was able to claim British nationality (because of the 'patriality' rules in the British Nationality Act) and so circumvent the sanctions on the then apartheid regime in South Africa, which included sporting contacts; fair enough, she had the right. However Ms Budd, rather along the lines of Nasser Hussain in the current cricket controversy, claims that as a sportsperson it was 'unfair' to require her to condemn the policies of the then South African government when sportspeople from  countries with regimes equally odious, if perhaps in different ways, had no such requirement placed upon them. At one level, one can perhaps understand her viewpoint, but a little reflection reveals it to be a cynical attempt to gloss over a very unpalatable set of facts. She, unlike many of her co-citizens of South Africa, had a ready way out - she had a valid claim to British nationality, but her determination to remain 'neutral' on the issue of apartheid in her birth country reveals the total cynicism which which she accepted the benefits of British nationality, quickly returning home to South Africa after the sporting competition at the time was over.

Ms Budd now states, but only grudgingly and after very strict questionning by the interviewer, that 'of course' she was against apartheid, but that she wasn't aware at the time of its effects on the majority population. This reminds one of the purported lack of knowledge on the part of many Germans before and during the Second War War of the policies being carried out by the German government of the day, elected by those same Germans in 1933. It is perhaps credible in both cases, the South African and the German, that many of the white South Africans and 'Aryan' Germans were unaware of the full extent of what was being done in their names, but I just do not accept that the general tenor of what was being done was unknown to them.

Apart from the economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa, which had a steadily deleterious effect on the country's economy, the effect of the sanctions against the country's sportsmen was (to put it bluntly) to make life really awkward for them, to make them face up to the reality of what their government was doing in their names. The fact that Zola Budd was 'inconvenienced' and had to take another nationality to get round the difficulty is not something I am prepared to have any sympathy for; to her I say "tough, get over it!".

Zola Budd, as well as being a sportsperson, is also a citizen. The same goes for Nasser Hussain and the other English cricketers. It is not an acceptable position for them to purport to distance themselves from their responsibilities as adults and citizens. In the present instance the English cricketers have the privilege of being citizens of a relatively free and open society where the government doesn't, thank goodness, tell us where we can and cannot go except in a very limited range of circumstances. They and the ECB will have to make their own decisions, and then live with the consequences. It is no part of the British government's role to 'tell' them what to do.

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Copyright © 2002 William Cameron