THIS week Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) and the New Zealand Cricket board â€œagreedâ€ to postpone the Kiwisâ€™ July tour of Zimbabwe by a year after discussions between ZC managing director Ozias Bvute and his NZC counterpart Justin Vaughan at the ICCâ€™s chief executivesâ€™ conference in Johannesburg.
It was a sad day for cricket because by forcing Zimbabwe into a compromise in which they clearly had very little leverage, another dangerous precedent has been set.
The ICC will constantly find it hard to contain such situations in future when leading nations want to dictate, and in particular when Zimbabwe is concerned.
Compromise or no compromise, we all know that the tour wasnâ€™t going to take place anyway because the New Zealand government had made it clear that it was going to stand in the way of the Black Caps tour.
While Vaughan is said to have cited health concerns in his discussion with Bvute, it was quite obvious from the statements by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key that the reasons were primarily political.
My initial reaction to the story when I read it for the first time on Cricinfo, was that the article had probably popped up erroneously from the websiteâ€™s archives because Keyâ€™s remarks sounded very lame; in fact very remote and insensitive in the context of the new political dispensation in Zimbabwe. Â
Said Key: â€œIâ€™d be deeply sceptical about whether they would be going. We donâ€™t support that regime. We donâ€™t support whatâ€™s happening in that country, and we donâ€™t want to give a signal that we do.â€
I also naively assumed that, somehow, the news of Zimbabweâ€™s new unity government had perhaps not reached the Shaky Islands.
But it finally dawned that the New Zealand premier actually meant every word when he reaffirmed his stance earlier this week.
â€œIâ€™m pretty reluctant for the Black Caps to travel,â€ Key said. â€œThere are very real, genuine security risks for our players. There are some options that I am working through at the moment. We donâ€™t support that regime. We donâ€™t support what is happening in that country, and we donâ€™t want to give a signal that we do.â€
Whether the regime Key refers to is the previous Zanu PF government or the new coalition government, your guess is as good as mine.
It would be a big shame if the â€œregimeâ€ he was referring to is the new unity government. I am not suggesting that the new government is the solution to Zimbabweâ€™s problems, but it must be given a chance.
Iâ€™m sure Zimbabweans themselves hold reservations about this government. Itâ€™s not what they voted for when they went to the polls in March last year.
But everyone who is well informed knows of the traumatising experience a vast number of Zimbabwean citizens went through after daring to exercise their right to choose in March.
In that context, this government was the only priority left for Zimbabweans as they seek to map a better future for themselves.
Surely the least true friends of Zimbabweans can do is to sympathise with them. They are stuck with a new administration that is not going to go away, like it or not.
What they need now is support not condemnation. Certainly not hard-line statements such as the New Zealand PMâ€™s.
There was a time when such rhetoric was in the best interest of Zimbabweans, when only countries like New Zealand and others firmly stood by us and spoke boldly when some who really should have added their voices kept a deafening silence.
But we need to move on now.
Zimbabweans can only appeal for support. But the decision to offer support or not lies entirely with the individual countries, New Zealand included.
For the record, itâ€™s important to make things clear.
Now that the tour is off, I would like to hear two things from the New Zealand government in the weeks ahead. First, I would like them to substantiate their security fears in Harare or Bulawayo.
Secondly, I would like them to specify which regime they refer to which they would be in support of by allowing their team to tour Zimbabwe.
If we donâ€™t hear from them, then we have to conclude that the New Zealand government was just looking for excuses when there really arenâ€™t any.
They also mentioned the security question.
The physical security of touring teams in Zimbabwe has never been an issue. Clearly Zimbabwe does not pose the slightest of threats compared to, say, the West Indies, which has one of the worldâ€™s highest murder rates and gun violence is rampant.
But the New Zealanders have been happy to tour there. Theyâ€™ve also been to Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and are due in India shortly â€” all countries that have recent history of terrorist attacks.
As for cholera, what danger does it pose to them in a comfortable five-star hotel, eating the best imported food and drinking treated water?
Why do I get the feeling that there is a deliberate ploy to preserve cricket as an elitist sport? What growth took place in Kenya when they did extremely well to reach the 2003 World Cup semi-finals? Not massive, but marked. Then a highly significant drop.
What of Zimbabwe?
What does Haroon Lorgat and company think of the possibility that a small but passionate cricket nation that could be a shining example of development can go extinct if ICCâ€™s own Future Tours Programme is disregarded with a flick of the wrist?
I would like to see the ICC adopt a firmer stance in future. If they continue to fail, what a miserable betrayal it would be to a nation that is trying to rebuild its game and in desperate need of a helping hand from the international governing body and the leading nations.
What extra betrayal it would be to ICCâ€™s own legacy and drive to make cricket a truly global sport.
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO