IN what is being seen as the first move towards wider international cricket sanctions this week, Zimbabwe Cricket lost South Africa as an ally and could face further action at the International Cricket Council (ICC) annual conference in Dubai on Wednesday.
In a terrible week for the Zimbabwe Cricket board, which has been maintaining the line that sports and politics do not mix, Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced cutting bilateral ties with Zimbabwe cricket.
The renewed pressure comes in the wake of unprecedented international condemnation against the Zimbabwe government over the deteriorating political situation in the country which prompted opposition leader Morgan Tsvangiraiâ€™s withdrawal from todayâ€™s presidential run-off election.
The ECBâ€™s action followed the British governmentâ€™s letter to the board instructing it that Zimbabwe would not be allowed in England next year for the ICC World Twenty20 event and an ODI series.
“The ECB, who have been in constructive and extensive dialogue with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for some time, welcome the governmentâ€™s decision and share the governmentâ€™s concerns about the deteriorating situation and lack of human rights in Zimbabwe,” the ECB said in a statement.
While the ECB decision was largely expected, it is the South African boardâ€™s bold and unexpected measure that is likely to stir other previously lenient boards, such as India, into action.
In a non-confrontational approach similar to their President Thabo Mbekiâ€™s quiet diplomacy, CSA had until this week continued to incorporate Zimbabwean teams in its domestic competitions.
But on Monday, Norman Arendse, the CSA president, dropped the bombshell, dealing a heavy blow to Zimbabwe Cricket which relied on South African support to maintain its lucrative ICC Full Member status even though the Zimbabwe team last played Test cricket in September 2005.
“In the light of the worsening situation in Zimbabwe, CSA has reviewed its position in relation to Zimbabwe cricket,” Arendse said on Monday. “We have decided to suspend our bi-lateral agreements with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union until further notice.
“In the past, CSA has defended Zimbabwe Cricket against heavy odds, but the general situation in Zimbabwe has now made this untenable.
“We will continue to comply with the ICCâ€™s Future Tours Programme regarding Zimbabwe, as we are bound to this programme as a full member of the ICC. However, CSA will suspend its bi-lateral agreements with ZC, which includes development and administrative programme, and the participation of Zimbabwe teams in CSAâ€™s domestic competitions.”
However, even engagements with Zimbabwe in the ICCâ€™s Future Tours Programme is wrapped in doubt as South Africaâ€™s leading players have indicated they will boycott Zimbabwe at all levels of competition.
With the ECB and CSA making a firm stand, ICC is being pressured to act as a unit at the bodyâ€™s executive meeting in Dubai next Wednesday.
ICC president-elect Dave Morgan explained that South Africaâ€™s decision was significant because their board had always been Zimbabweâ€™s staunchest supporter, but warned: “It will be a very difficult discussion. India and Zimbabwe are close and Indiaâ€™s position is crucial in all this, for sure.”
Seven of the 10 Full Members need to agree to take action.
Meanwhile, the Australia board this week said it was monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe closely.
“Cricket Australia is observing the situation in Zimbabwe with great concern,” the boardâ€™s spokesman, Peter Young, told IndependentSport on Tuesday.
“Cricket Australia has many friends in Zimbabwe and has undertaken a range of steps to try to help cricket within Zimbabwe during the difficult times in your country during recent years.
“We saw and noted the South African statement. I think it is likely that our next step will be to understand the views of the broader world cricket community at global meetings which, by chance, are due to start at the end of this week before considering any public comment.”
Yesterday Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Peter Chingoka could only acknowledge receiving the CSA statement but said he had not seen ECB release.
We have seen Cricket South Africaâ€™s statement and noted their decision. That is as far as I can say for now,” Chingoka said.
“As for the ECB, we canâ€™t prejudge. We have to see the full document before we can make a statement.”
By Enock Muchinjo