Just watching the cricket between Zimbabwe and England today, I have a couple of further comments to add to what Brian was saying on Thursday.
The background to all this is that Henry Olonga in the recent World Cup wore a black arm band to mourn the death of democracy in Zimbabwe. (Olonga incidentally was in 1995 the first non-white player to play top level cricket for Zimababwe, although there have been many others since) Although he was a member of the Zimbabwe squad for the rest of the World Cup, he was not selected in any further matches in the tournament. Off the record, the team management admitted that they would have liked him to have played, but they were under pressure from the Mugabe government not to select him. The final stages of the tournament were played in South Africa, and it was revealed at the end of the tournament several members of the Zimababwean security forces had travelled to Zimbabwe to “escort” Olonga back to Zimbabwe after the last game so that he could be charged with treason. The South African government should have screamed in outrage at this violation of its sovereignty but didn’t. Apparently good relations with the Mugabe regime are still important there.
Unsurprisingly, Olonga went into hiding and left South Africa, eventually turning up in England. Many of us thought that this was so outrageous that cricketing ties with Zimbabwe should be ended, at least for now. Over the past ten years, Zimbabwe had gone to some effort to build up a good cricket team, but by this point things had reached something of a sad, depressing joke. (Of course, the situation with the game of cricket was unimportant compared to the indignities being suffered by the people of Zimbabwe in general, but it was sadly symptomatic of it).
However, the Zimbabwe team’s present tour of England went on as scheduled. The England Cricket Board (which isn’t in a great financial state) needed the money. The Australian board, which is in a perfectly good financial state, also confirmed a tour for October, so the English board are not alone. The first game between Zimbabwe and England (which goes for five days) is presently being played.
As Brian said, there have been some protests against the game. Brian reported that Channel 4, the advertising funded but technically state owned television network that covers English cricket, used the rain delays in the match to provide some discussion of Mr Mugabe’s vile regime, and to interview Henry Olonga.
However, turning on the match this morning, I discovered it was even better than this. Henry Olonga is actually working for Channel 4 as a commentator. I don’t know if this is just for this match, or he will be doing it for the whole summer. Like Brian, I was very impressed by him. Olonga is very articulate and knowledgeable, and was doing an excellent job. Many television channels would just cover the sport and pretend that any political controversy was not happening. However, Channel 4, while still providing good cricketing coverage, has not done this at all. Not only have they given the state of Zimbabwe some attention, but they have actually given Henry Olonga some work. This is sporting coverage and not news coverage, so they haven’t been overt about it, but in a nicely understated way that doesn’t take anything away from the sporting coverage, they have made a statement. This is deeply classy.