I did not have much idea about the apartheid in South Africa when I was growing up. All I knew was that South Africa as a country did not participate in any sporting event. I had of course heard about Mahatma Gandhi’s struggles there and knew about Nelson Mandela. But I remained largely unaware about the political situation in the country.
About 2 years back I happened to read a very moving biography of Basil D’ Oliveira. For those who are unaware, Basil was a very talented South African colured cricketer. Denied the chance to play for South Africa, he took the long route of moving to England and qualifying to play for his adopted country. He scored five test hundreds for England and ultimately it was his selection in the England team to tour South Africa in 1972 that led to the rainbow country’s ban and sporting isolation.
The book made me realize the absolutely ridiculous conditions that existed in South Africa pre 1991. Blacks or coloured cricketers had to face a lot of hardships. The book recounts an experience of an individual who could not meet his father and mother because they were classified as coloured and he was classified as black. Basil and his friends could not play at a proper cricket ground, could not visit hotels and could not lead a normal life.
South Africa’s isolation meant that better sense prevailed and normalcy (at least on the face of it) was restored. Basil D’ Oliveira was the guest of honour at the opening match of the 2003 World Cup at Cape Town, a match in which Brian Lara inspired the West Indies , a predominantly non- white region to beat South Africa.
Why am I writing all this? Because the issue of Zimbabwe has suddenly taken centre stage in the world of cricket. There is no doubt that there are large scale human right violations happening in Zimbabwe. ( But aren’t they hapenning all over the world). There is also no doubt that the Zimbabwe cricket is virtually non existent- Their first class structure has collapsed- Their international team is made up of school boys and their Board has been accused of corruption by an audit carried out by a independent entity.
The larger point here is whether a ban on Zimbabwe is going to improve the political situation there. In South Africa’s case it obviously worked but South Africa were isolated with respect to all sporting events. There is no obvious movement at the moment to ban Zimbabwe from other sports. Hence the question to be asked is whether a cricketing ban would have any effect on the country?
I am not debating the ability of Zimbabwe cricket in this post. If the full ICC membership of Zimbabwe had to be removed for cricketing reasons then it should have been done 3 years back. If it was not done then, there is no point doing it now.
Now to the role of the BCCI in this entire affair. It seems Zimbabwe’s greatest supporter in this entire saga has been the BCCI. If the BCCI is doing this to ensure a confirmed vote at the ICC meetings then it is a disappointing and needs to be addressed immediately. Mukul Kesavan one of my favorite cricket writers made a very valid point when he wrote “The BCCI has to decide whether it wishes to be the patron-in-chief of a dysfunctional, politically compromised - and in the light of the audit, very likely corrupt - Zimbabwean board. It has to work out whether it wants the ICC to continue to financially subsidise such an organization, a subsidy that, in effect, makes the ICC and the BCCI complicit in the violence of Mugabe's regime (of which ZC is a client). It shouldn't be a hard decision to make.”
But there is another side to this argument.. The English and the South African cricket Boards have decided to cut off ties with Zimbabwe only after they received directions from their Governments. Till date the BCCI has not received any instructions from the Indian Government. Why then should the BCCI act on its own?
Wonder what Basil D Oliveira thinks about all this?