Friday, March 21, 2008

The Hopeless Inevitability Of Zimbabwe`s Plight

There was an air of inevitability about the confirmation that Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Peter Chingoka would not be pulled up for financial irregularities, and would be allowed to continue as if nothing had happened.

After all, the situation has an uncanny resemblance to the wider political sphere in the country, as diplomats dither while the country burns.

Zimbabweans go to the polls next weekend in presidential and parliamentary elections. It should represent a moment of hope and opportunity - when I was home for the 2002 elections there were sparks in the air, a feeling that the people's will would triumph and a new era would begin.

But the word drifting out of the country now is that there is a complete sense of hopelessness. People have lost all faith in the democratic process and it's easy to see why.

Similarly, accusations of misrule have been levelled at ZC for years, with rumours of corruption and racism popping up at every turn.

When I spoke to former coach Phil Simmons during last year's World Cup he claimed that he was still owed US$120,000 by Zimbabwe Cricket, and expressed his belief that large amounts of money had disappeared during his time as coach.

"In 2003 Zimbabwe were a host country (for the World Cup), so they would have got 10 million (US Dollars) or more,"

he said.

"They then had a series against Australia though they might not have got much. Then they played India from which the TV rights were reportedly five million, so that's 15 million in three years.

"But six months to a year after that they couldn't pay phone bills - their phones were cut and their cheques were bouncing here and there. So what's the story - where has all the money gone? Because there's no new infrastructure, no new grounds have been built. Where has the money gone?"

It's exactly a year since I spoke to Simmons, but all that's changed is that ZC have been caught, questioned and released without charge.

"In its review of the ICC Audit Committee report, the ICC Board accepted that the KPMG report had found no evidence of criminality and that no individuals had gained financially,"

read the ICC statement.

"The Board noted, however, that the report highlighted serious financial irregularities. ZC reported to the ICC Board that it had taken substantial remedial action to correct these irregularities and would continue to do so."

The fact that the board could not even hide behind ambiguity and vagueness says it all.

If there were serious financial irregularities that needed "substantial remedial action" then something wasn't right, and even if individuals did not benefit then the game certainly didn't - as Cricinfo's Steven Price found in a profile of the state of cricket at all levels in Zimbabwe.

And there lies the key - it's blatantly obvious that the game is dying a torturous death, yet the ICC simply stand by because one less member would mean one less vote. Crucially, it would mean one less vote for the Afro-Asia bloc of South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Instead, Zimbabwe will surely return to Test cricket in May, when India will tour a country on its knees. If that seems inevitable given the lack of action so far, then there will be an even greater inevitability about the result - even coach Robin Brown has admitted to me that his side are not "anywhere near" Test level.

But that won't concern the administrators. Just as the African election observers will no doubt endorse a resounding victory for president Robert Mugabe, so the ICC board will agree to re-admit Zimbabwe to the Test frame.

No wonder Zimbabweans have lost all hope.

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