By Enock Muchinjo
While Zimbabwe will now likely escape expulsion by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in October, it has emerged that the hardline taken by the game’s global controlling body on the African nation is more about sending a strong message to other countries where government interference in the control of the sport runs even deeper.
The ICC surprised many last month after it took an aggressive posture towards Zimbabwe, suspending the country and withdrawing funding following the removal from office of the local cricket board by the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) — an arm of the sports ministry which regulates all registered sporting federations in the country.
While the SRC move received support from a wide array of stakeholders, amongst them, well-respected figures of Zimbabwean cricket past and present, the ICC dug its heel in and insisted that the actions of the SRC were tantamount to the government’s failure to keep the sport free from interference.
“What has happened in Zimbabwe is a serious breach of the ICC constitution and we cannot allow it to continue unchecked,” an ICC statement following an annual general meeting in London last month read.
The SRC has since reinstated the ZC board following a deal that has paved way for the lifting of the Zimbabwe ban.
Zimbabwe risked being expelled if the SRC did not reverse the ZC board suspension before the ICC’s next meeting on October 8.
“At the moment the ICC are happy with progress,” an impeccable source said.
“This is what we all want. We do not want (ICC) suspension. It will be very hard to come back from that.”
Meanwhile, another top source privy to the goings-on in the world cricket governing body explained to this newspaper that the strong public disapproval of the ZC board within Zimbabwe, sentiment which contributed to the suspension by the SRC, fell on deaf ears in ICC corridors of power because it presented an opportunity to send a strong warning to the governments of the most powerful cricketing nations, especially in the Asian bloc.
“The hostility of the current ICC board towards the SRC move is understandable in the context of current politics in world cricket,” said the official.
“External influence in the governance of cricket in some of its member countries has proved to be quite bothersome to the ICC in more recent times. So the ICC stance is really not about Zimbabwe. It’s about Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). It’s those communities sending a message to their governments to stay out of cricket. Zimbabwe is the expendable example. That is the only way to understand the stance of the ICC.
Zimbabwe is just an example in the politics of other countries. You (Zimbabwe) are disposable. You are not India or Pakistan or Australia or England. But you are important because you can be used as an example, especially on sub-continent issues. Your country is just a pawn in a bigger political game of world cricket, with Asia calling the shots.”
The ICC board is made up of representatives of all full members of the confederation, with those from Asia — where governments have a big say in how the sport is run — being some of the most powerful and influential in decision-making time at the world body.
Political and government figures in the leading cricketing nations are known to play a leading role in the affairs of cricket in those countries.
In August 2018, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, a legendary figure in world cricket, appointed former ICC president Ehsan Mani as the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board.
In 2011, Sri Lanka’s Sports minister forced the national cricket board committee to step down following allegations of financial mismanagement.
The Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) committee, led by former player Somachandra de Silva, was asked to resign. De Silva was replaced by millionaire businessman Upali Dharmadasa.
While ICC did nothing on both occasions in these powerful cricketing nations, it now appears the actions did not sit well with the Dubai-headquartered organisation.
And now it seems a wonderful opportunity has presented itself, in the form of Zimbabwe, to tell others to back off.