Zimbabwe Cricket Team "Politically Cleansed"
Players, spectators and protesters encouraged to wear black armbands.
Zimbabwe's cricket authorities have "politically cleansed" the team that arrived in Britain on I May 2003 for a two-month season of test matches and one-day internationals. Only players uncritical of the Mugabe regime were eligible for selection.
As well as Andy Flower and Henry Olonga being forced out, coach Kevin Curran and trainer Malcolm Jarvis have been eased aside. Two other top players, Alistair Campbell and Guy Whittall, have quit the national team. They are unhappy with the way the Zimbabwean cricket authorities have politicised the game.
Only four of the Zimbabwe cricketers who played in the World Cup in February are in the current team.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has accepted the right of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) to politically vet its players.
"England's cricketers have agreed to play against a politically cleansed Zimbabwe XI", said human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, one of the organisers of the London-based Stop The Tour campaign. "This is probably the first time a British sports body has agreed to play against a politically vetted team".
"The ECB defends its decision to invite the Zimbabweans, claiming that sport should be kept separate from politics. Why, then, has it approved a test series against a side that has squeezed out players and coaches critical of President Mugabe?"
"The Zimbabwe Cricket Union is not an independent sporting body. It is the sporting arm of the Mugabe regime. Most ZCU officials are either members or supporters of the ruling party, ZANU-PF. Those who have shown insufficient loyalty have been purged".
Mr Tatchell is a veteran of the Stop The Tour protests in the 1970s against sporting ties with South Africa's apartheid regime. During the 1970s he also campaigned in support of ZANU's liberation struggle against white minority rule in what was then Rhodesia.
Backed by Zimbabwean exiles and refugees who have fled Mugabe's terror, the Stop The Tour campaign is planning protests at the England v Zimbabwe test matches.
Although the Stop The Tour campaign wants to force the cancellation of Zimbabwe's test matches against England, its main aim is to highlight the terror tactics of the Mugabe dictatorship and increase pressure for international action to restore democracy and human rights.
From January 2000 to February 2003, 260 opponents of the Mugabe regime were murdered and 3,409 tortured, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. Nearly all the victims were black.
"We are urging cricket players and spectators to wear black armbands in solidarity with the struggle for democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe", said Mr Tatchell.
"President Mugabe is patron of the ZCU. His government's authority was required before the tour could go ahead. He controls the ZCU. All Zimbabwe's players are politically approved. Only those uncritical of Mugabe were eligible for selection".
"After Henry Olonga and Andy Flower wore black armbands during February's World Cup, to mourn the 'death of democracy', they were forced out of the Zimbabwe team. Olonga was terrorised with death threats and fled to South African in fear of his life. Flower was told his cricket career was finished and has been compelled to seek exile in the UK".
"Other coaches, trainers, team officials and administrators have also been eased out in recent months".
"Alistair Campbell, the former Zimbabwe captain, has condemned the team playing in Britain as 'yes-men'. He disclosed to The Times newspaper that when he played for Zimbabwe a clause in his contract prohibited him from saying anything political. The penalty for doing so was immediate suspension without pay".
"Members of the current Zimbabwe team are contractually banned from criticising the Mugabe regime and from speaking out in defence of human rights. They are being gagged. The ZCU is denying them freedom of speech. It is using the threat of dismissal as a way of silencing them".
"Zimbabwe's cricketers are sporting ambassadors for the Mugabe regime. Mugabe wants this tour to go ahead. It is part of his strategy to normalise relations with the rest of the world".
"There can be no normal sporting relations with an abnormal regime that uses torture, rape and murder as weapons of repression".
"It is wrong for England to play cricket with a team that flouts the sporting principles of open selection and fair play by requiring its players and officials to pass a political loyalty test".
"The ECB is colluding with this politicisation of sport. By agreeing to play the Zimbabwe team, it is giving de facto endorsement to the ZCU's political vetting of players", said Mr Tatchell.
The ZCU's official letterhead bears the words: "PATRON: HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ZIMBABWE, CD R.G. MUGABE"
"The initials CD stand for comrade. The use of this ZANU-PF party-speak is evidence the ZCU has a very close and deferential association with the Mugabe regime".
The ZCU is obviously proud to be associated with the President Comrade. It has politicised cricket by making Mugabe its Patron. Despite many reprints during more than a decade of well-publicised human rights violations, the ZCU has never bothered to delete President Mugabe's name from its letterhead. On the contrary, the ZCU has actively voted to renew Mugabe's tenure as Patron".
"Last July, President Mugabe was re-elected on a unanimous vote of all ZCU board members. Leading ZCU members are linked to ZANU-PF and the Mugabe government. Cricket is highly politicised in Zimbabwe. Mugabe refuses to keep politics out of sport. It is therefore totally fanciful for the ZCU to claim it is apolitical", said Tatchell.
Click here to return to the Sport Index Click here to return to the International Index Click here to return to the Zimbabwe Index