January 3, 2003

Row Intensifies Over Cricket Hosting

Zimbabwe is once again at the centre of international controversy as cricketing authorities and governments lock horns over the possible exclusion of the country from co-hosting the Cricket World Cup.

New Zealand has now joined the British and Australian governments in registering their opposition to their teams travelling to Harare to play the opening matches of the World Cup but the South African government was quick to jump to Zimbabwe's defence. Sharp divisions in South Africa have emerged over how to deal with the exclusion of Zimbabwe. South Africa's deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad has been reported as saying it was wrong to compare sporting sanctions against Zimbabwe with the campaign to isolate apartheid South Africa. "South Africa was the only country in the world categorised by the United Nations as a crime against humanity. The Zimbabwe team is non-racial," Pahad told Reuters. "We must therefore not equate Zimbabwe with the same situation that went on in South Africa. They were two totally different systems."

But on Tuesday, December 31, The Sowetan, which usually supports the government, came out sharply in support of the boycott. "The exclusion of Zimbabwe as a World Cup venue is intended as a moral statement, emphasising our collective outrage over Mugabe's disregard for democratic norms," said an editorial. "By ensuring Zimbabwe is left out of the international loop, the world would signal its utter disdain for Mugabe's unwillingness to reform and restore his country to a constitutional democracy," the paper said.

The Star carried a commentary in its columns saying Mugabe would use the staging of the international event in Harare to grandstand. "Hitler had used the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to show the world the brilliance of the Nazi regime and South Africa used sport to show it was a normal country of European habits," the paper said.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union has to brace itself for disruptions by civic campaigners if the hosting of the 2003 Cricket World Cup goes ahead next month.

Zimbabwe's hosting of the event has been immersed in controversy as the British government, supported by Australia and New Zealand, is advising its team not to play their opening matches here. As the threat of a boycott became real this week, local groups co-ordinated by a group calling itself "Organised Resistance" is threatening to disrupt the events if the matches go ahead. "It has become increasingly apparent to Zimbabweans in general, as well as a variety of civil society organisations, that should the World Cup come to Zimbabwe, it will present a useful opportunity to expose and highlight the human rights abuses occurring in Zimbabwe - in particular, the partisan distribution of food aid," the group said in a statement on January 2. "The media coverage, and the fact that foreign journalists and world television will be focusing on Zimbabwe, means that our state-sponsored victimisation will once again become front-page news around the world," the group said. "It is likely that mass demonstrations will be coordinated to take advantage of the media event of the World Cup."

This week Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak has accused Britain of hypocrisy over its stance as the country still maintains trade links with Zimbabwe. "Politicians are not speaking out about the hundreds of British companies trading in Zimbabwe," Streak told Britain's Daily Mirror. "This is double standards. They should be consistent. If they target cricket alone it's hypocritical."

Meanwhile, the government-near newspaper "The Herald" reported a division between opposition MDC party about the World Cricket Cup. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was quoted as saying he is against the World Cricket Cup being played in Zimbabwe "because President Robert Mugabe would use it for propaganda", despite the fact that the mayors of Harare and Bulawayo - both senior MDC members - have endorsed the hosting of the game by their cities. (Zimbabwe Independent, Harare / The Herald, Harare)

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