Wednesday, November 24, 2004

24 November 2004: Zimbabwe

Interesting developments on a story I was discussing last week.

It seems that FIFA have clearly come down on the side of the anti-racists - Sepp Blatter, a man whose name just invites silly jokes, but who is in fact in charge of football's global governing body, said on Sportsweek last Sunday that he would back players who walked off in the face of such racial abuse as England suffered against Spain a week ago. All well and good, although you don't normally hear quite such clear-cut statements from a man whose main role until this point seems to have been arguing with UEFA over everything from arse to elbow, neither of them being able to tell which was which.

But still more amazing has been the Zimbabwe situation. After the ECB agreed to the tour going ahead following the threat of expulsion from the ICC, the Zimbabwe authorities have now refused to let a good chunk of the British cricket media into the country, including the BBC and several national newspapers. (Bizarrely, the Daily Mail are allowed to travel, despite their profoundly anti-Mugabe stance over the last few months). Acknowledging that 60% of cricket's revenue comes from media coverage, the players have been somewhat shocked by this state of affairs and, as I write this, seem to have delayed their travelling to Zimbabwe until the situation is resolved. Whether such a delay is indefinite remains to be seen, although I think the tour should have been called off long before this.

Whether the ECB are prepared to take the bold, yet necessary, step of calling off the tour remains to be seen; whether the ICC would still go ahead with their threat to throw England out of the international game is also in the balance. It could kill cricket in this country were that to happen, but on the other hand, depending on the actions of other cricketing nations around the world, perhaps it might precipitate something else: the end of the ICC and the long-overdue sporting isolation of Zimbabwe in protest at the ridiculous human rights violations that have gone on for far too long.

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