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Who’s Running the World Cup?

World Cup Cricket News 05/02/03

Report by Jon Cocks

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who led the call for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the Commonwealth at the last CHOGM gathering, was first quizzed on the Zimbabwe issue a month ago. Bat and pad close together, he appeared to be urging the ICC to look at the issue again, presumably to take on board the political aspect of the conundrum.

He indicated that teams slated to play in Zimbabwe during the Cup should be 'all in or all out', noting that the ICC appeared only to be considering the player safety issue. Howard then went onto the front foot, branding Mugabe's government 'illegitimate' and the product of 'a rigged election', with 'an appalling human rights' record. In apparent retaliation, Mugabe echoed the 'convict' line for a cheap headline at Australian expense.

If we’re all convicts, what does that make him? Mugabe is a cynical, probably deranged tyrannical despot and what he knows about Australia - other than research done for him by his “war veteran” flunkies - is unlikely to fill the back of a postage stamp. Decisive action is needed to discredit him roundly in international circles. But what do we get instead?

Desperate to be seen as showing firm leadership, the ICC flatly insists that no game will be re-scheduled. Malcolm Speed visited Zimbabwe and declared that he was happy with security arrangements, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. In a country whose own cricketers have anonymously requested that matches be moved to South Africa, cricket’s governing body insists that there is nothing to fear.

Does the ICC dance to an Indian tune that appears to recognise the Mugabe regime? If not, why is the ICC so slow to acknowledge the overwhelming body of evidence that the country is unsafe and that the concerns of its citizens are legitimate?

It was very quick to sacrifice Darren Lehmann on the altar of Asian indignation over his unfortunate outburst. With Al-Qaeda in Kenya and possibly Zimbabwe and the ability to relocate matches to South Africa at short notice, what’s the problem?

Players steer well clear of making political statements that could come back to bite them where the sun doesn't shine at all kinds of inopportune moments, but safety is another matter. The Zimbabwean Police can’t guarantee that there won’t be violence in Bulawayo, when they clash with anti-government demonstrators at the still-mooted Zimbabwe vs Australia match.

This is not a matter for the players, whose job it is to try and win the World Cup. None of them want to hand valuable points over by forfeit. It is too much to ask them to make a stand on principle, while government leaders and cricket boards fumble in the field. It has become clear that the ICC will let those metaphorical fumbles go for overthrows.

Australia, England and everyone else scheduled to play in Zimbabwe and Kenya should present a united front to the ICC and demand that the matches be rescheduled in South Africa. The Australian players - like their England counterparts - have indicated that they'll be guided as to the final decision; no one wants to become embroiled in politics.

The ACB has cautiously gone ahead with playing in Bulawayo, subject to ongoing safety reviews. Now the situation appears clearly untenable, there can be only one sensible decision - to forfeit the match, as re-scheduling is not on the ICC agenda.

A few months before the outrage in Bali last October, no one knew that the popular holiday resort would be a terrorist target. It's only become clear in the past fortnight or so that a terrorist cell is active in Nairobi.

The New Zealand withdrawal from its Kenyan commitment is a reasonable decision. Its government disagrees with the ICC’s assertion that all is well enough in the Kenyan capital. Interestingly, the Sri Lankans appear to take a different view. Is their collective outlook influenced in any way by their sub-continental neighbour’s official attitude?

Australia played in a tournament in Kenya last year, near the time of Bali, and no one thought twice about it. At the time, it was just another meaningless ODI tournament, the main aim of which was to promote cricket in a developing country.

But, is not the World Cup the greatest tool of cricketing promotion as well? If so, why even remotely gamble on a location which is known to have terrorist elements present? The greater the focus on terrorism, the higher the fears and more justifiable the caution.

There's no smoke without fire. The ICC has allowed matches to occur in parts of Africa other than the RSA. Now there are more-than-legitimate concerns regarding player safety, not to mention the moral issues concerning Zimbabwe, it would make sense for a pro-active organisational body to take affirmative action and re-schedule matches.

Mugabe is now insisting on a five thousand-dollar fee for visiting journalists to enter Zimbabwe. Writers not under direct control of the Zimbabwean government must pay for their freedom of speech, it would seem. Will this cost balanced coverage of a few cricket matches and any other events that surround them out of reach of the normal cricket consumer?

Cricket boards can’t be criticised for not seeing the danger in the past, before the rigged Zimbabwean election and heightened fears of terrorism around the world, any more than employers in the Twin Towers could have anticipated anything other than business as usual on 9/11. Who is really running the World Cup, anyway? What is the real agenda?

Editors Note: Clearly, neither the ICC nor national cricket boards wish to be seen dabbling in politics. The responsible governments are loathe to interfere in sport.....so WHO will make a decision on the Zimbabwe issue one way or another! Rather than continue to sit back and pass the buck, all the aforementioned entities need to get together and hash out a solution to this problem, not simply pass the buck back into the players hands and subject them to calls of being racists or cowards.

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