Spamming to save a tour? and Canberra’s annual pastimes

It’s not exactly in the same league as selling mail order Via*gra, X[a]nax or p3nis enlargements, but the Zimbabwe Cricket Union’s unsolicited email to the eighteen first-class English counties on Monday will go down as one of the daftest acts by a cricket administration in recent times.

The Zimbabwe Cricket Union, stretched for funds in a deteriorating economy and suffering on the field from a drain of most of its best players, is desperate for every scheduled international tour to its country to proceed. And with October’s tour by England in serious danger of cancellation, ZCU chairman Peter Chingoka and chief executive Vince Hogg were desperate enough to decide to bypass the ECB and appeal directly to the county administrations.

As if the counties, as such, had a direct say in the matter. They don’t, and Hogg later admitted to the UK’s Daily Telegraph that he didn’t know who was on the ECB’s management board.

The full text of the email was <a href=”http://sport.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?xml=/sport/2004/01/27/scziml27.xml”>published by the Telegraph</a> on Tuesday. While it raises a number of salient points, it is scaremongering to suggest, as Chingoka does in his closing paragraph, that “the consequences for cricket in Zimbabwe are very real but the long term damage to the ECB and the game in the UK could be even greater.” And of course there is no acknowledgement of any political or social problems within Zimbabwe in Chingoka’s letter. (After all, would there be?)

The ZCU’s attempt to bypass the ECB and appeal directly to the counties is simply daft diplomacy, not matter how strong their arguments, and may have done more damage to their cause. The Guardian on Wednesday reported suggestions that the ECB would offer one million US dollars to the ZCU as compensation for the loss of the tour. It seems compromise may be the only way out of this mess, and that could be one way to achieve it.

Meanwhile, a question du jour: Would the British Government be more decisive in ordering the ECB to cancel the tour if London were not bidding for the 2012 Olympics?

On to Australia, where Canberra hosted two annual cricketing events on Wednesday – the Prime Minister’s XI match (won by India by one run in the compulsory close finish), and the Federal Government applying pressure to Cricket Australia to cancel a Zimbabwe tour.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on radio yesterday (<a href=”http://www.dfat.gov.au/media/transcripts/2004/040128_3aw.html”>transcript</a>) that he doesn’t want Australia’s tour, scheduled for May and June, to go ahead. Downer told interviewer Neil Mitchell that the decision was Cricket Australia’s, and that the government wouldn’t try and force them. A bit like Jack Straw’s attitude to the ECB.

The difference in Australia, however, is that there is not the intense swell of public opinion over the Zimbabwe issue. Cricket followers watching them get flogged in the VB Series are generally blissfully ignorant of the situation in Zimbabwe, and there is little heard from the pollies and academics in the media about the matter.

Which makes it easier for Cricket Australia, as they did over the past two years, to tell the government to “bugger off”. Australia did cancel its tour to Zimbabwe in April 2002 on security grounds, just one month after the controversial presidential election, and they also had their tour to Pakistan that October relocated to neutral territory for similar reasons. Last February, they went ahead and played their World Cup fixture in Bulawayo, and went through the tournament undefeated.

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland is on strong ground when he says, for the third year running, that the board will make its own decision based on professional advice on security. Ricky Ponting, whose media skills are still maturing, may regret the unsubtle remark at a press conference yesterday when he said “Moral issues don’t come into the equation”.

My view is that both the England and Australian tours to Zimbabwe should proceed, provided there are no serious doubts about security. If either government feels strongly that the cricket teams should not go for political or “moral” reasons, then they should direct them not to go, and take responsibility for any payment of compensation for breach of contract.

Meanwhile, the world cricketing community as a whole, as represented by the ICC executive, should decide whether it is morally just for teams to continue to visit Zimbabwe while current political and humanitarian crises prevail. Their decision should then be applied consistently, and respected universally.

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