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John Howard, Australia’s Prime Minister, is quite rightly critical of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, and does not like the idea of the Australian cricket side touring there. He has had to struggle with his conscience:

“I am jammed between my distaste for the government getting involved in something like this and my even greater distaste for giving a propaganda victory to Robert Mugabe.

But not that much of a struggle. The next sentence:

Obviously if there is a way legitimately that the tour can be cancelled and there not be an exposure by Cricket Australia to any fine, then we’ll go down that path.”

Later in the week this was backed by threatening to withdraw the players’ passports, and the federal government undertaking to pay any ICC fine.

What a pity. Mr Howard plainly understands that the administration of sport is not the government’s business; but he feels bound in the pursuit of maintaining Australia’s national image to intervene in private sphere. Talk of the tour being a victory for Mugabe is just justifying cant: a ban is a much bigger target for racialised anti-colonial rhetoric. The quasi-ban – notably exercised by bullying and bribery rather than any lawful power – is a lurch of Zimbabwe-style arbitrary government and propagandising state action.

Western politics is not so far from the world of Comrade Bob, and we forget that at our peril.

20 comments to Potkettlehood

  • Chris Harper (Counting Cats)

    The Mugabe regime is putrid, and anyone who acts to support it is without decency,


    what the hell has any private action got to do with Howard?

    This is an appalling act on his part. Especially given he is a liberal, not just a Liberal.

  • MarkE

    There are two sides to the argument about applying sanctions, especially travel bans, to any country. Expressed simplistically they are:

    1/. By visiting the country we give them legitimacy, and may also be providing the finance that props up the regime; or

    2/. By visiting we are witnesses to any crimes that may be commited thus, perhaps, preventing some, and we may by our presence strengthen the locals in their opposition to the regime.

    I personally favour the second, but I’m not arrogant enough to say that I am definitely correct, or to condemn those who disagree. Unfortunately the first argument has the benefit (for governments) that it can be construed as “doing something” without the need or cost of actually doing anything, so it earns government support (which may be part of my motivation for taking the opposing position).

  • Interesting that he was opposed to sports sanctions against South Africa in the 80s. At least be consistent if you’re going to do this sort of thing…

    It is none of the state’s business of course, but given he’s a Liberal not a liberal its not surprising.
    (Australian Liberals are not liberal, they are far too conservative and reactionary – they may have some liberal ideas, but that does not make them liberal)

  • Due to the way the ICC’s rules are constructed, the Australian Cricket Board had four options: (a) they could tour; (b) they could refuse to tour and pay a fine – however, the fine would basically consist of paying $2m directly to Robert Mugabe; (c) they could ask the Australian government to ban the tour – as the ICC regulations allow the fine to be waived in the event of a government ban; or (d) they could withdraw from the ICC.

    My preferred position would actually be (d), but that doesn’t seem to be on. Therefore what happened is that the cricket board went to the Prime Mininster and begged him to ban the tour. He was reluctant to do this, as Australian governments don’t generally do this kind of thing, but he eventually relented and announced that he was forbidding a tour that nobody had any intention of making because the alternative was to pay $2m to Robert Mugabe, and nobody possibly wanted that. This sets a bad precedent. (Who knows, in the future some Australian government might actually want to ban sporting tours and by this example it seems they have the right to). Hence my preference for option (d). But I concede that Howard is trying to make the best of a bad situation here.

    I have a half-written post discussing this whole situation in more detail, and I will try to finish it and post it this evening.

  • RAB

    Well there is a 5th option Michael.
    The government doesn’t want the tour and the Australian Cricket Board doesn’t want the tour so shouldn’t someone have a quiet word with the players?
    Australians are imaginative people. I’m sure they can come up with the requisit number of groin strains , twisted knees, broken toes and the all purpose, Urgent personal family matters, to make it impossible to field a side and the ICC will have to cancel it.

  • The problem with that is that Australia has probably 2,000 players of sufficient standard to absolutely stuff the daylights out of the best XI that Zimbabwe can field.

    Michael’s option d) is definitely the best option but I’m not all surprised to see that they went for option c).

    There’s some history here. In 1980, the Australian government wished for Australia’s Olympic athletes to boycott the Olympics that were being held in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, but they did not provide any legal sanction of the like that we have now. As it turned out, only about half of Australia’s 1980 Olympic Team actually went.

  • What I want to know is why the hell are the ICC including Zimbabwe in a tour to begin with? Why are we still entertaining this repulsive madman by allowing his government to continue? His African neighbours are no better and even make excuses for him. The man is a stain on the face of Africa and he needs to be wiped off.
    We’re arguing the toss over cricket when the Mugabe government has been out of control for years. Cricket is just a bloody game, people starving and being tortured and brutalised is as far from a game as it can get. Is it some kind of sick way of avoiding the fact that ultimately we are responsible for Mugabe? Stop pussyfooting around talking about cricket and bloody well do something about Mugabe, take him out and the problem is solved. Then you can play cricket wherever you like.

  • DocBud

    Any arguments made for not touring Zimbabwe can be made equally well for not participating in the Beijing Olympics. Can’t see Johnny boy banning Australian athletes from going though.

  • Phil A

    mandrill’s argument is not without merit, but I suspect the ICC is bound by rules requiring the promotion of cricket that make it difficult to address the matter of Zimbabwe and they would find it – uncomfortable…

  • deltawingman

    Again it is a case that sporting bodies do not have the balls to act. That great turning point of politics meddling in sport, the Basil D’oliveira affair was another case in point were the Cricketing “authorities”, the MCC at that time, were too weak willed to make a firm decision on their own and eventually were pressured into stopping an England tour of South Africa when the South African Government chose to dictate the composition of a touring team.

    Could not the ICC or the Australian cricket board have enough guts to make a decision and have to hide behind the coattails of a government? I do think option d) above is highly attractive to the libertarian mindset. We don’t like central bodies dictating rules to regional bodies and individual sportsmen. Everything should devolve down to agreements between individuals and lowest level organisations. World sporting bodies tend to be like the united nations. Statist and dictatorial.

  • TimH

    Well, it seems you Englishmen are still peeved at being beaten by Australia in the World Cup. Our Prime Minister stated previously that the Federal Government should not interfere with the decision on the Zimbabwe Tour. I suspect that privately he was lobbied by players and perhaps, management, to stop the tour. Ponting has said publicly he is happy the ban decision was made.
    And, for your information, Mr. Howard has been one of the best Prime Ministers that Australia has ever had, in my (and many others opinion).

  • Paul Marks

    If someone was “conservative” or “reactionary” they would not force people not to go any play cricket in a country whose government they opposed.

    As for “liberals” – the meaning of this word has always been contested. At least in English (in French the word does clearly seem to mean people who support liberty). In English “liberal” can also mean “broad and generious” for example holding to a free that government has broad powers (a “liberal interpretation of the Constitution” goes back to the early 19th century in the United States, the Whig party called itself “liberal”).

    In Britain as early as the 1830’s some people were defining liberal as meaning a government that tried to help the people (in various ways). And the best selling liberal writer in Britain in the 19th century was J.S. Mill (someone who, yes, used the words “liberty” and “freedom” a lot – but was always thinking up new things for government to do).

    And of course there is the 19th century connection between liberalism and both representative (not democracy as such – liberals tended to oppose systems like New Hampshire style town meetings or the gatherings in certain Swiss Cantons – liberals wanted elections, things they could control) government and nationalism. The people who created such nations as Germany and Italy (by the conqest of countries whose history went back centuries) imposed their higher taxes and conscription in the name of “liberalism”. Everyone remembers the story of how Garibaldi “liberated” Sicily – but who remembers the many thousands of people of Sicily who died fighting the higher taxes and consription that the Kingdom of Italy imposed on them (died in a forgotten war that went on for decades).

    Of course the liberalism of Carvour (first minister of Piedmont-Italy) involved plundering the Church and subsidizing railways (and lots of other things) and the liberalism of Garibaldi developed into support for Karl Marx.

    As for the National Liberals in Germany and their alliance with their alliance with Bismark. Well Bismark never claimed to be a liberal (although concervatives always understood he was not a conservative either), and as for the swine who welcomed such things as the conquest of the Kingdom of Hannover (a Protestant kingdom – in case people think I am being too pro Roman), well these wicked men got what they deserved in the end (Bismark turned on them after they had served their purpose).

    Even in Switzerland, liberalism was imposed by force of arms and meant higher taxes, religious persecution, and rigged elections (enforced by occupation) in Cantons that were not liberal.

    And the people who plundered the Roman Church (and persecuted the people who believed in its doctrines) in both Europe and Latin America called themselves “liberals” as well.

    All the above should not be taken to mean that everyone who called themselves liberal in the 19th century was a bad person (some were very good people indeed) or that “liberalism means statism” (sometimes it did not). Only that the dark interpretation of “liberalism” is not an invention of the “new liberals” of the 20th century (their tradition had been there from the start).

    To get back to cricket.

    It could be that John Howard is just being statist – as he was with the “gun control” statute of 1996.

    But there is another possible explination.

    It could well be that the Australian players (and those who organize the game) do not really want to go to Zim at all (after all the Zim team is not really “private”, Comrade Bob controls things these days).

    However, the “international authorities” who control the game might fine the Australian team if it refused to go.

    Hence the “we would love to go, but our government will not let us”.

    In private both the Australian players and those who organize the game may be very pleased with Mr Howard’s action.

    However, I fully accept that Guy is likely to know more about this that I do.

  • All will be revealed when Michael Jennings finishes his post (hopefully tonight).

  • guy herbert

    It could well be that the Australian players (and those who organize the game) do not really want to go to Zim at all

    It rather looks as if they don’t. But they don’t want to bear the consequences of not going of their own volition, either.

  • TimH

    Guy, I don’t think the players have a choice, unless they want to be fined for not going. The Australian Government has already said they would cop the fine. Therefore, problem solved.

  • Effing and Blinding

    Mandrill and others:

    The continued inclusion of Zimbabwe as a full international side (although suspended from Tests) has politics all over it. There is certainly no cricket merit to the tour. Zimbabwe is no longer even competitive at this level: Kenya, Scotland and Ireland would, on cricketing grounds, be ahead of them in terms of deserving a tour and full status.

    Don’t know the exact reasons Zim still has full status, but I think it is something pushed by India. I don’t know whether Comrade Bob has linked India’s access to Zim resources in exchange for keeping them in the international game. But one thing’s for sure – it has nothing to do with cricket.

    It wasn’t long ago Zim had a competitive team – good players, many of whom are still playing.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes the “consequences” (to use the word that Guy, quite correctly, uses) for Comrade Bob’s takeover of cricket in Zim should be for the team to be no longer included in the international competion (after all it is not there on merit).

    This is not a civil society matter, Zim cricket is under government control – and it is only allowed in the competition due to politics.

    The South African situation was quite different.

    The sporting teams (even when they were all white) were in the competitions on merit – and kicked out by politics.

    And even when the teams were mulitracial and nothing to do with the government of South Africa (as they were when John Howard spoke in defence of people being allowed to engage in sport with South Africans) they were still kept out by politics.

    Still I would tend to favour going to Zim and playing against Comrade Bob’s teams – in order to show him up by smashing them.

    Remember what Jessie Owens did to Hitler.

  • Kim du Toit

    Let’s be perfectly clear here: sports boycotts were imposed against South Africa because the whole world abhorred apartheid. That’s the beginning, and the end of it — and people who defied the ban were accused of supporting (or at least not condemning) the eeevil apartheid.

    Unfortunately, Mugabe’s government clearly isn’t seen as eeeeevil by the rest of the world (or in this case, the ICC), or else the tour would have been abandoned long ago.

    That’s the unpleasant fact which no one is talking about.

  • Of course, the warm welcome given to Zola Budd proves the ‘whole world’ wasn’t a bunch of equally racialist bigots.

  • Kim du Toit

    But Zola Budd was British!