The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Olonga an icon in Zimbabwe’
- We have become closer friends: Andy Flower

London: Retired Zimbabwe international Andy Flower has paid tribute to his former teammate Henry Olonga, with whom he protested against President Robert Mugabe’s regime during the World Cup in South Africa earlier this year.

The two players made headlines during cricket’s showpiece event, wearing black armbands to “mourn the death of democracy” in Zimbabwe, but Flower believes the younger Olonga, the first black cricketer to represent his country, had much more to lose. “He was a black icon in Zimbabwe and the perfect role model for youngsters,” the 34-year-old Flower wrote in a column for Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper. “The easy path for him to have taken would have been to stay in cricket and not say anything. I realise that he had much more to lose than I did over this issue and my respect for him is immense.”

Flower, a world-class batsman who quit the international game last month after Zimbabwe’s failure to reach the World Cup semi-finals, is playing English County cricket for Essex this season.

The 26-year-old Olonga, who went into hiding after the World Cup amid reports that the Zimbabwean secret police were looking for him, has also retired and is in England on a six-month work permit to play club cricket and do TV commentary.

Olonga, a gifted singer who has said he could look to music as an alternative career, played his 50th and final ODI for Zimbabwe in the World Cup Super Six clash with Kenya in Bloemfontein on March 12.

“He is now getting his life sorted out over here (in England),” said Flower, who played 63 Tests for Zimbabwe, making 4,794 runs and averaging a world-class 51.54 with 12 hundreds.

“He is a smart, charismatic guy who will not be short of career options, whether it is cricket commentary, music or art. We speak regularly and have definitely become closer friends since we made our stand over ‘the death of democracy’ in our country.”

Flower added that he had mixed feelings over Zimbabwe’s two-Test series in England later this year. “There will be demonstrations and I actually think that will be a positive thing, because it will give the human-rights activists a chance to highlight the problems in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Zimbabwe will play two Tests against England, starting at Lord’s on May 22, and a tri-series beginning on June 26.

“I have mixed feelings about whether this tour should take place,” added Flower. “But I do not think that sporting sanctions against Zimbabwe will necessarily work. They did during the apartheid years in South Africa because of the importance South Africans attach to sport.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth last year after allegations that Mugabe had rigged his re-election as President.

Meanwhile, a prominent opponent of Mugabe accused the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Saturday of colluding in a “political loyalty test” ahead of the Africans tour here.

Peter Tatchell, organiser of the London-based stop-the-tour campaign, said the ECB had accepted the right of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) to politically vet its players. This, Tatchell said, flew in the face of the ECB’s previously-stated policy that cricket and politics should be kept separate.

“The Zimbabwe Cricket Union is not an independent sporting body,” said Tatchell, best known as a homosexual rights campaigner. “President Mugabe is patron of the ZCU. His 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”, Tatchell added.

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