Members release statements on I Cup fixtures in Zimbabwe

Wed, Sep 1, 2010 7:40 PM

The following statements have been released by Cricket Ireland, Cricket Scotland and Zimbabwe Cricket in relation to the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2009-10.

Cricket Ireland statement on Zimbabwe - Warren Deutrom, CEO Cricket Ireland

During the last few days, there has been some heated debate surrounding Ireland's decision to tour Zimbabwe at the end of September. In particular, focus has centred around the political/moral aspects of such a tour, as well as the cricketing, financial and safety/security considerations at play.

In some instances, the commentary has been emotional, occasionally it has been informed, sometimes not so, but it has always been passionate. Cricket Ireland takes extremely seriously its responsibilities as a carrier of the nations' flags abroad, as it does its responsibility as an employer of staff/players, as a member of the international fraternity of cricket nations, as the promoter and manager of Irish Cricket's playing and commercial interests, and as guardians of the reputation of Irish Cricket. If necessary, It also has a responsibility to explain its actions, especially if those actions are open to misinterpretation – this is such an instance.

Quite clearly, it is not in our interest to undertake anything which is either hasty, foolish, morally objectionable, politically naive or financially ruinous. On the contrary, the duty of Cricket Ireland is to ensure that as many as possible of the salient facts and factors in any complicated issue have been considered, all relevant stakeholders are consulted, and a decision reached which is based on the best advice and a consideration of occasionally opposing forces.

In 2008, as an all-Ireland sport, Cricket Ireland sought advice from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) regarding whether we should play against Zimbabwe. Both Governments stated that they advised against travel to the country but had no objection to Ireland playing Zimbabwe on neutral territory (Kenya), which subsequently occurred in October 2008.

With the ICC's Zimbabwe Task Team recommending that a Zimbabwe XI should enter the 2009-10 Intercontinental Cup, an accommodation was reached whereby they would play their home games in South Africa. However, ICC contacted CI some weeks ago and stated that Zimbabwe Cricket had been in contact and had stated, based on political and cricketing progress within the country, that they no longer felt it was justifiable that they should have to play their home games outside of Zimbabwe. CI was then requested to make contact with our own Governments to determine whether there had been a change of view regarding playing against, or in Zimbabwe in the 2-year interim since we last asked them that question.

In both instances, the Governments' positions had altered. The Irish DFA stated they supported the Unity Government in Zimbabwe, and had no objection to CI travelling to Zimbabwe, while the FCO position stated, as follows: "Following the creation of the Inclusive Government in February 2009 and some reforms to Zimbabwe Cricket we would no longer advise against touring to Zimbabwe for political reasons." Further, Cricket Ireland received an email from a senior official in the UK Embassy in Harare in June stating:

"Selection is on merit - the current team has a good balance between white and black players - and many of the old players, who left in dispute with the Board, are now back in the fold as coaches/selectors. The Zimbabwe Sports Commission, which oversees sports administration in Zimbabwe, is of the view that Zim Cricket has cleaned up its act over admin and finances (they submitted certified accounts for last year). [Zimbabwe Cricket Chairman Peter] Chingoka remains on the EU Sanctions List, but that means he cannot travel to the EU not that we shouldn't deal with him, and our understanding is that he too is a reformed man.... Minister Coltart [Minister for Education, Culture and Sport] will argue hard that there are no security reasons for avoiding coming to Zimbabwe. He also believes that increased sporting links boost those looking to improve sports' administration. And apart from the Sri Lankan and Indian cricket teams, the Brazilian football team played a World Cup warm-up game here two weeks ago - so a refusal to visit is becoming more awkward to justify."

This was the UK Government's advice to CI a matter of weeks ago. At the subsequent CI Board meeting in June, the subject of Zimbabwe was raised and, based largely upon both Governments' advice, the Board delegated the Chairman and CEO to notify Zimbabwe Cricket of CI's intention to tour their country at ICC's upcoming Annual Conference in Singapore, which was subsequently done.

It should be stated that at no time did ICC seek to pressurise CI into making a decision, while then-ICC President David Morgan's presence at the Board meeting was at CI's own invitation, which had been a longstanding one he intended to honour prior to his departure from office. Mr Morgan remained entirely even-handed throughout the discussion when his opinion was sought and suggested that we should seek further advice, including that of contacting Senator Coltart. CI's decision was reached on the basis of the compelling political advice (which we understood then to elucidate the moral imperatives), on cricketing value and following undertakings to procure the safest possible conditions for our squad to travel there.

With this confirmation, discussions commenced with ZC regarding dates and location of matches. In this period, the UK Government changed from Labour to Conservative/Lib-Dem resulting in a hardening of the UK's stance on the issue of its sporting teams visiting Zimbabwe on political grounds. Following iteration of this by the FCO to CI, we immediately sought the advice of the Irish DFA to see whether they had also shifted their recent position. They informed us that its position had remained unchanged, that it supports the Unity Government in Zimbabwe, and that it continues to have no objection to CI's tour there. From a position of political unanimity, we found ourselves in a difficult situation wondering whether the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe had worsened, leading to the new FCO position.

It was at this stage that we contacted Senator Coltart who was travelling to the UK at the time. He was able to break his visit to address a number of Ireland players, squad management and Board members. He declared himself no apologist for President Mugabe, a fact on which he is on record, he outlined his own turbulent history as political activist (and outlaw), that the country was hugely different from 2008 (even from 2009), that the economy had stabilised since the hyperinflation of recent years, and that one of the most vivid manifestations of this improvement was in the cricket structure, with the team making excellent strides forward, previously disaffected players and coaches returning to the country to participate in the structures, and timely submission of annual accounts, independently audited.

He compared the situation in Zimbabwe in 2010 to that in South Africa in the early 1990's when South Africa's sporting teams were readmitted to international competition while the apartheid regime was still in power. He was honest about the fact that not everything was perfect, that there was still much wrong with the country, but that political change was happening, and it was positive. He said that, just like with South Africa during that period, sport can play a constructive and healing role and could assist the evolutionary process towards normality in Zimbabwe, helping bring about peaceful change without in any way buttressing or legitimising what has gone before.

Senator Coltart stressed that it wasn't just Zimbabwe's former players seeing positive change, but overseas players and coaches, such as Jason Gillespie and Allan Donald recent recruits to ZC, while former England cricketer Alan Butcher is now the squad's national coach. Perhaps the most eloquent testimony to this change has been the stance of former Zimbabwe player Henry Olonga who famously made his black arm-band protest against the Zimbabwe government during the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003. In a recent interview, he too recognised that ‘the winds of change are blowing through the country, and maybe it's time now to consider bringing Zimbabwe out of isolation from a broader perspective.' Senator Coltart was also most reassuring, subject to reasonable sensible precautions, on the safety and security issues.

While the political and moral considerations were the priority considerations, as the national governing body for cricket in Ireland, it has a duty to at least consider cricketing matters and a corporate responsibility to act in the best interests of Cricket Ireland. It would be disingenuous to say that there isn't a strong cricketing reason to travel to Zimbabwe. It gives the squad vital ODI practice before the World Cup, it would send out a terrific message if we were to prevail against a Test member in a multi-day match, we might gain crucial ODI rankings points, not to mention that Sri Lanka and India have already travelled there recently, thereby reaffirming a partial normalising of cricket relations with the international fraternity and the possibility of having a safe and secure tour. A very far cry from affirming our 2nd-class status, or having no cricketing value, as was recently suggested.

Perhaps what might have been of greater cricketing relevance to say is that Ireland, currently ranked 10th, may well forego its top 10 status by losing ODIs against a lower-ranked team on their own home ground. Initially, Zimbabwe's own busy schedule meant that 3 ODIs were unlikely, but it was CI that pushed for this number of matches, as opposed to the matches being ‘cleverly dangled in front of Irish noses' as has been suggested . However, from a purely cricketing perspective, no team ever improved by staying in its comfort zone or running away from the strong challenge of an improving team, in an unfamiliar environment (none of the squad that travelled to Zimbabwe in 2000 remain) and on their home ground.

Recent comment has ungenerously suggested that Ireland is acting, variously, in an ‘objectionable' and ‘shameful' fashion, or as political ingénues, bullied by the ICC, unscrupulously pursuing riches, or seeking advancement at the expense of higher values. Nothing is further from the truth. We have consulted with Governments on a constant basis, we have consulted with ICC, we have spoken to security experts, we have spoken to our players and sponsors, we have considered precedence, we have considered the evidence of former players returning to the fold in that country, we have consulted with Zimbabwe's own Sports Minister, and we have made our own decision, protracted though that has necessarily been.

Every decision has been taken with an eye to the bigger picture of the impact of such a tour, and what people may think of us for doing so. Though we do not court popularity per se, neither do we seek to act unilaterally against the public mood, nor offend. There will always be those that disagree, just as Senator Coltart pointed out to his Irish audience a few days ago that there are those on both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland that disagree with Unionists and Sinn Fein having a power-sharing agreement. Indeed, it was pointed out by a northern-based member of our squad how hypocritical it would be for Ireland to cite safety and security as a concern in another country when we spent decades trying to persuade teams to come to Ireland during the Troubles.

While we fervently support people's right to disagree, we trust that this article helps disabuse the public of any misconceptions about CI's motivations in reaching a decision which some regard, including the co-founder member of the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe, as a progressive step which will help their country's healing process. And while I completely agree that it is naive to suppose that sport and politics do not mix, both our experience in talking to Senator Coltart (a man that understands more than any Irish commentator about the situation on the ground in his own country) and the divergence of opinion among even neighbour Governments demonstrate that, at least in this instance, the decision has been reached at the furthest distance from a moral vacuum.

Cricket Ireland does not seek to make political statements, nor is it seeking to embark upon a moral crusade – it is merely a sports governing body trying to make the best decision in difficult circumstances, weighing conflicting advice in a changing political, cricketing and moral landscape. We assure you of the best of our intentions.

Cricket Scotland statement on Zimbabwe

The Board of Cricket Scotland has met to consider issues relating to the proposed forthcoming match against a Zimbabwe XI in the ICC Intercontinental Cup competition.

This game, originally scheduled to take place at a neutral venue in Africa, was rescheduled three months ago to be played in Zimbabwe, at the request of Zimbabwe Cricket. Cricket Scotland, although very disappointed at the late change of a previously agreed venue, decided to acquiesce to this request on the basis of the security and Governmental advice received at the time.

New Ministers reviewed this advice and, in a recent formal communication to Cricket Scotland, it was stated: "The Government is firmly of the view that there has not yet been sufficient progress in Zimbabwe on the fundamental issues of political reform and of re-establishing the rule of law to justify sports tours by British teams and the positive signal that would send. We therefore strongly advise against such visits. We recognise that the final decision is for the relevant Cricket Boards, but hope they will consider their decisions carefully in the light of our unequivocal advice."

The Scottish Government supports the stance of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, stating that: "We strongly advise Scottish sports teams against visiting Zimbabwe."

Cricket Scotland's Board discussed this advice, and also the responses received following discussions with the International Cricket Council (ICC). It is clear to Cricket Scotland that the governing body has been placed in a very difficult situation, with potentially no solution that would appease all parties. In coming to a final decision, all these factors have been taken into consideration.

It is clear that, if the match had gone ahead as scheduled in a neutral African venue, this situation would not have arisen. In subsequently agreeing, in good faith, to play the game in Zimbabwe, we did so with the blessing of the (then) Governments in Holyrood and Westminster, and after receiving security advice.

The subsequent change in UK Government policy is unequivocal and is advising, in the strongest terms, against the Scotland cricket team playing in Zimbabwe. Cricket Scotland accepts, and is proud of, our role within the global cricket family and are delighted that cricket in Zimbabwe has made significant strides forward in recent times. Cricket Scotland's Board could not ignore direct and unequivocal Government advice. We have therefore informed the ICC that, with regret, the Scotland side will not travel to Zimbabwe.

Commenting on the decision, Roddy Smith, Cricket Scotland's Chief Executive, stated: "It is hugely unfortunate that Cricket Scotland has been put in an impossible no-win situation in regard to the potential tour to Zimbabwe. Our Board has taken cognisance of all the advice and recommendations from Government and the ICC, and can only take what we believe is the correct course of action. Both the UK and Scottish Governments were clear in their advice to us. Although accepting that this decision will not be welcomed by some key partners, we felt that as a responsible governing body we could not, and would not, contravene the direct and unequivocal advice from Government. We hope that the Scotland team can look forward to playing in Zimbabwe again in the future if and when Government policy allows."

Zimbabwe Cricket statement on Scotland

Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) has confirmed receiving official notification from Cricket Scotland about the Scottish governments directive not to tour Zimbabwe for the scheduled ICC Intercontinental Cup matches against the Zimbabwe A team.

"The decision is regrettable," said ZC managing director Ozias Bvute. "We have consulted with our various authorities who have all ruled out the possibility of these matches being played in a neutral venue, " he added.

"I remain of the belief that sport can build bridges and I have confidence that it can also act as a catalyst for healing and national unity. It is with this in mind that we hope that in the not too distant future, all the strained sporting relations will be restored for the common good of all, " said Bvute.

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