No End To Politics In Cricket

I love cricket. The only chance I get to play the game now is when I’m part of the parliamentary Lords & Commons team during the summer but when the sun shines there is nothing like it.

Few people develop a love of cricket. It is, like many sports, something that becomes ingrained in you from a young child. In my case my late father introduced me to the game when I was still really a toddler. Much debate has been had about the reduction of cricket played in our schools as large playing fields become more difficult to justify in school finances but, despite all that, the game of cricket is growing wondrously throughout the world.

However everyone must again be saddened that this great game has been thrust into the political limelight during the last few years with desperate tales of cheating, corrupt practices amongst a few players and political machinations amongst the authorities.

Now we have the Zimbabwean situation to stoke the politics around the sport of cricket and create divisions when it cries out for harmony. In a recent debate in the Houses of Parliament about the Zimbabwean situation much concern was raised about the forthcoming cricket tour with many politicians saying that the tour should be called off. Quite rightly all the horrors of Zimbabwean daily life were raised in the debate, with politicians on all sides berating the oppression and terror of Robert Mugabe’s regime amid many claims that the cricketers should be forced to stay away.

We now have the prospect of demonstrations at cricket grounds round the country and once again the sport will be in turmoil. Well, their cricketers are here now. The decisions have been made. Let’s leave it to the English people to decide whether they want to support the situation by turning up for the games or demonstrating their unhappiness with the circumstances by staying away.

In the recent World Cup England refused to play in Zimbabwe. The main reason given was one of guaranteed security but it was also clear that many of the English cricket team did not want to give Mr Mugabe and the government of Zimbabwe the opportunity to have their high profile day lording it over the English team.

Now the Zimbabwean authorities see it as valuable to visit the home of cricket for a tour which promises to advance the country’s prospects as one of cricket’s major playing nations. And that is what we should all applaud and encourage but the timing is wrong.

Despite my love of cricket I shall not go to a match, because I believe that there should be no representation of that country on the international stage until the oppressive regime of Robert Mugabe and his henchmen has been removed from the scene. That is my personal choice.

Sport continues to play a powerful part in international relations. I like to think that relations have been eased everywhere by the battles between different nations on football, cricket and all other sporting fields. I am sure that South Africa’s years of official sporting wilderness, caused by its bitter apartheid policies, played a part in creating the environment for political change. One can hope that the same would be true for Zimbabwe.

As was made very clear in the recent debate this is not about race. If Zimbabwe’s invitation had been changed then Kenya would have been substituted. And for any English cricket enthusiast the greatest enemy is always Australia, far more than the West Indies, India, Pakistan or even one of the newer cricketing nations such as Holland!

My concern is for all the people in Zimbabwe. Cricket is becoming a major sport amongst black Zimbabweans and the best way for it to progress further is to see black players achieving greatness on the international cricket field.

Britain must play a greater role in bringing pressure from the wider international community to bear on Mr Mugabe. And part of that should be the withdrawal of sporting contact until things improve. It may not be much. The development of cricket globally will again be the sufferer, which is a great shame but there is no other solution.

I very much hope that it will not be long before a team from a democratic Zimbabwe can be welcomed to these shores and cheered to the rafters in competing in a sport that one hopes will once more be the honest gracious game played in its best traditions.