ZIMBABWE’S inclusive government has dismissed the New Zealand cricket board’s health fears which could, for the second time in as many years, prevent their team from touring here in July.
Reports in the international media last week said the New Zealanders are likely to pull out of their rescheduled tour of Zimbabwe following “the collapse of public heath system in the African nation”.
New Zealand Cricket (NZC) chief executive Justin Vaughan and the New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association boss Heath Mills expressed their concerns over the proposed trip, which they postponed last year on political and moral grounds.
This time around, the Kiwis have dropped the political concerns, apparently due to the reforms made by the inclusive government in which MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai is prime minister while his long-time rival Robert Mugabe remains president.
“Medical facilities are a concern. You can go to countries and protect yourself against infectious diseases and the like as long as you’ve got a decent standard of hygiene and healthcare services available to you,” Vaughan told New Zealand’s Sunday Stars-Times.
“We’re not in possession of all the facts quite yet, but it appears that (health) could be quite a significant concern. Certainly, NZC is non-negotiable on the matter of putting our team at risk at any time.”
In an interview with IndependentSport this week, Sports minister David Coltart allayed the fears, saying the New Zealanders had an obligation to help Zimbabwe cricket’s well-received rebuilding exercise.
“Well, I think it’s unfortunate if that’s the reason (for not touring) because while we don’t have a first-world health system, we still have very good medical facilities in this country. Our private health system is excellent, and for those who can afford, service delivery is excellent,” Coltart told IndependentSport.
“The cholera epidemic that affected our nation in 2008-09 is a thing of the past. It’s clear to me that under Dr (Henry) Madzorera (minister of Health) we are improving all the time.”
Coltart said even after a turbulent period in the country’s history, health-wise Zimbabwe still remained safer than most countries.
“Ask people who travel to Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and to an extent Pakistan. I believe in many respects Zimbabwe is a far healthier environment,” he said, adding:
“The ambassador of Australia, the country closest to New Zealand, is here and can testify. We have tens of thousands of foreign nationals living here. The Cosafa football tournament (late last year), in which we hosted 13 national teams, went without a hitch. We had the Bangladesh and Kenya cricket teams here without incidents. I don’t believe there is any justification to use health grounds to stop a team from coming here.”
Although the political situation in the country has improved, and concerns over security have largely been a smokescreen, Coltart made references to the issues.
“In the country there is still a long way to travel,” he said. “’But it’s an unrecognised country compared to this time last year. There are fewer reports of human rights violations. It’s by no means perfect, but things have greatly improved.
“In terms of safety, this is one of the safest countries to play sport. We don’t have bombs exploding, and the crime rate is very low compared to South Africa. In terms of security, Zimbabwe is much safer than most Test playing nations.”
A spokesman for the New Zealand foreign ministry, Murray McCully, said a decision had not yet been made about the tour. Coltart will lobby the government to persuade the Blackcaps to tour.
“I will certainly take it up with my political counterparts in New Zealand. As for the New Zealand Cricket Board, my message to them is that Zimbabwe is a safe place and they are most welcome.”
Asked what attitude he expected from the New Zealand government, he said: “I don’t know, I don’t want to speculate, but I hope I will be given a sympathetic hearing.”