Harare, Feb. 16: With the Zimbabwe leg of the World Cup having an appreciable political overtone, it came as no surprise when the country’s minister for sport (education and culture as well), A.S. Chingwedere, personally welcomed Sourav Ganguly’s team on arrival this afternoon.
“We’re very happy the Indian team has come to fulfil its obligation and though a smear campaign has been launched by some people, I wish to reassure that Zimbabwe is as safe as India. Every country has some problems, but we don’t wish to get provoked. If we do, that will mean playing into the hands of those inimical towards us,” Chingwedere declared in a short speech at the airport.
The Indians, who arrived from Johannesburg, are to play Zimbabwe on Wednesday.
Later, talking to The Telegraph, the minister slammed England for refusing to come here and remarked he wouldn’t be surprised if Australia, too, eventually decided against playing on Zimbabwean soil.
“England’s stand has been hypocritical... There’s been so much lecturing on keeping sport and politics separate, yet the English have themselves mixed the two... Everything has been blown out of proportion. In fact, the only dispute (in Zimbabwe) is between a section of the White commercial farmers and the government... A huge majority of our population isn’t affected,” Chingwedere insisted.
The minister continued: “Because of what has been spoken about, I won’t be surprised if the Australians decide to go England’s way. Only, if they do that, Zimbabwe will have to be compensated. Having invested so much, it’s not easy reconciling to matches not being played.”
The reigning champions are scheduled to play Zimbabwe on February 24 in Bulawayo. It’s not insignificant, perhaps, that Australian Prime Minister John Howard has been calling for extending Zimbabwe’s exclusion from the Commonwealth and has consistently taken a hard line.
While “complimenting” the International Cricket Council (ICC) for its stand on England — awarding the four points to Zimbabwe — Chingwedere declined to comment on the sensational (black armband) protest by Andy Flower and Henry Olonga during the country’s opening game versus Namibia last Monday. They were “mourning” the death of democracy.
“The government has chosen not to react. However, we have asked the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) to look into the matter and revert. What is known is that the ZCU placed the issue before the ICC and the world body responded by saying cricket should not be a platform to advance any political agenda,” he said.
Sources said the ZCU is unlikely to act while the tournament is in progress. “The players’ action came as a shock and immediate disciplinary action would have added to the negative publicity... It’s for this reason that, instead, the ICC was moved. A repeat, though, could change things,” the source explained.
Another source observed that Flower, in any case, has announced he will quit after the World Cup — so, action by the ZCU won’t really affect him. Olonga, the first Black to wear the Zimbabwe cap, is reported to be considering a shift to either Australia or the US.