INDEPENDENT SPORTS VIEW –With Itai Dzamara
I AM not sure whether it was a feeling of pride or trepidation that gripped me when we had to receive a number of visitors from the Zimbab
we Cricket Union (ZCU) over the past three weeks.
Firstly, it was an unexpected visit by the recently appointed general manager (commercial), Andrew Mazamhindo, and communications manager Lovemore Banda.
Muzamhindo asked IndependentSport to “work together with ZCU and normalise our relationship”. Jokingly, the gentlemen referred to what they call “special projects” by this paper on issues to do with local cricket.
It was flattering, yet encouraging to learn that they held us in very high esteem!
I have always enjoyed occasions when people we would have written about storm the newsroom, either choking with anger or frothing with threats. I had always yearned for a moment one of these visits leaves us grateful for being recognised as a serious paper, especially coming from the very people we write about.
My colleague Darlington Majonga and I were invited to a meeting with Banda. After discussing a number of general issues to do with cricket and our coverage of the sport, Banda asked us a very interesting question. “What do you think we (ZCU) are doing wrong?” he asked.
We were honest enough to tell Banda that contrary to their fears at ZCU, we didn’t have an agenda against the union nor its chairman, Peter Chingoka. We emphasised that outside or “third” forces working to tarnish the image of ZCU or Chingoka were not in any way using us. And that it wasn’t our policy to always portray the union in bad light.
With the same sincerity, we however made it clear that we were unhappy with the way the ZCU had handled the 15 white players’ rebellion. We told Banda that what made our stories appear more in sympathy with the rebels was the fact that since the controversy started, our sources of information from the players’ side have always cooperated. At times they actually hunt us to provide information.
On the other hand, we said, the ZCU has been difficult, with Chingoka since April claiming that there was this “third force” bent on destroying cricket but never at any stage identifying it. Chingoka has often told us when we have sought comment: “The union’s doors remain open to those players who want to come back and our position regarding this matter has remained the same.”
We also told Banda that as a newspaper that should be accountable to readers by providing news and analysis of issues in politics, sports and other sectors such as business, we had to find a way around the cold shoulder we got from the ZCU. The union seems to prefer other publications ahead of us, for whatever reasons. We gave the example of how Chingoka rushed to the Herald four weeks ago after I had called him for comment on a story we were working on.
It was about allegations of use of intimidation as well as monetary rewards by Chingoka and his colleagues on the ZCU board to maintain their positions. After several calls and many excuses by Chingoka, he finally spoke to me and responded to my questions. We carried his responses in the story. It was put together on a Wednesday.
Unknown to me, soon afterwards he rushed to the Herald and a long story claiming that there was a fresh plot to tarnish his image appeared the following day in the state-controlled daily.
The Herald story dealt with the issues we had asked Chingoka. I am not sure whether it was mere coincidence. But we went ahead to publish our story.
I called Chingoka the following Monday, asking him to contribute to this column responding to allegations levelled against him as well as comment on the controversies rocking the ZCU. He initially appeared interested and requested me to send him a fax, stating the number of words and deadline. I did so. But he had not submitted anything until Wednesday when he told me that he was not interested because we had not quoted him properly in our stories, whatever that meant.
Not only did we tell Banda that we were committed to upholding professional standards in our coverage of ZCU and cricket, but also that we were not willing to bow to the union and toe its line. The same as we have a policy at this paper never to bow to Zifa, Zanu PF, the MDC or any individual.
Our next meeting was with Ozias Bvute. Yes, the one who has been widely described as “controversial” and linked to the President’s Office.
Bvute explained the circumstances under which he had assumed the acting role as managing director at ZCU.
We gradually drifted towards the real issue. Bvute acknowledged the rumours and allegations. But, he took pains to emphasise he had never had any links with the government.
The meetings with Banda and Bvute took us to a higher level of understanding the rebels’ saga. Both ZCU officials told us what probably was still unknown to most journalists as well as the public. And it was quite a revelation.
We learnt how the rebels’ saga had started, or rather surfaced, and how it was allowed to get out of hand.
We were told that the local cricket fraternity had for several years been grappling with issues of racism, silently, one might say. We were told about how the white players over the years had fiercely resisted the drafting into the national team of black players.
All these, we were told, were in resistance to the ZCU’s integration programme that sought to gradually draft more blacks into playing the game and eventually to national team standard.
Fair and fine, we said. I remember repeatedly saying these were issues between the union and its “kids” and under normal circumstances they should have been dealt with constructively and with rationality, the same way a good father should run his family.
But the ZCU had other ideas.
And then the final nail! We were told that Streak had written a letter to Hogg stating that he was not happy with the selection panel and that he would consider “withdrawing from all forms of cricket” if his concerns were not addressed by the following Monday.
Hogg is said to have advised Streak to reconsider his position and not to forward the letter to the ZCU board. But Streak must have been determined on his course for he called Hogg the following day, which was a Friday, during a board meeting. The former captain demanded that Hogg pass on his issues to the board.
Upon hearing this, Bvute emphasised, the whole board became furious and discussed the matter. That same meeting resolved to dismiss Streak as captain and appointed Tatenda Taibu. The latter was consulted and accepted the offer, they say.
The same evening – probablyafter about 15 minutes – radio and television had as their lead story Streak’s dismissal and Taibu’s appointment. Streak tells me he heard it on the news. The following day, it was big news in the papers.
The other white players, 14 that is, however resolved to boycott the game until Streak was reinstated and his grievances, which apparently were theirs as well, had been looked into. But no, not with the ZCU board, for it told them to go to hell.
And the rest is history!
We were frank on this one. It didn’t sound right. Period! Both parties must have had skeletons in their cupboards. I mean the ZCU board and the white players. But certainly, in the chronology of events as related by the union, we smelt a rat!