EDITORIAL COMMENT: ICC must look into so-called interference before acting

The Chronicle

THE International Cricket Council (ICC) has finally found a reason to slap Zimbabwe with a suspension after years of frustration with how the game has been run in the country for close to two decades.

According to a statement on Thursday, the ICC board met in London, England, and unanimously voted to immediately suspend Zimbabwe Cricket for alleged government interference.

This follows the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC)’s suspension of the ZC board last month over alleged irregularities and the installation of temporary leadership.

The ICC viewed the SRC’s actions as government interference, which is against its rules, and has ordered the reinstatement of the Tavengwa Mukuhlani-led board within three months.

ICC has also withdrawn all funding and barred Zimbabwe from participating in all its events. The national women’s team will likely be the first victims of the suspension, as they are due to play in the final round of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup qualifiers next month in Scotland. The Lady Chevrons won the qualifier at home in May after beating Namibia in the final. Their male compatriots, the Chevrons, are due to take part in a T20 World Cup qualifier in October.

ZC has been a problem child for the ICC for the past 15 years and the world’s governing body has been battling to bring sanity to the local game without success. Without ICC funding, there’ll be no cricket to talk about in Zimbabwe, as domestic sponsorship is virtually non-existent.

The ICC has previously complained that its funding and loans to ZC have been misappropriated and even the secondment of former ICC chief financial officer Faisal Hasnain as managing director bore no fruits for the 13 months that he was at the helm.

In fact, when ICC chairman Shashank Manohar came to Zimbabwe on a five-day visit in 2017, he slammed events in domestic cricket as unacceptable.

On Thursday, Manohar said: “We must keep our sport free from political interference. What has happened in Zimbabwe is a serious breach of the ICC constitution and we cannot allow it to continue unchecked.”

It’s interesting that the ICC and other world sport governing bodies frown at political interference in their game when sport regulating bodies like SRC intervene to root out corruption, while they wine and dine with some politicians that lead these sport associations. 

For example, suspended ZC chairman Mukuhlani is a politician and MP, and that alone poses a problem because he can easily use his political connections to act with impunity if he so chooses. We are not in any way implying that Mukuhlani used his status as a ruling party MP to do as he pleases at ZC, but simply suggesting that maybe the ICC and other world sporting bodies should forbid serving politicians from running sport associations.

Sport associations are registered in terms of individual countries’ laws and surely there comes a time when interventions are necessary to halt the rot.

In 2015, more than 40 Fifa officials were arrested for widespread corruption such as receiving bribes and kickbacks, with some pleading guilty, only after the United States government had stepped in. This is what happens when sport associations’ officials are left to reign with impunity.

The SRC has been accused of being a passive observer over the years while sport generally went south in this country and it’s sad that when it tries to fulfil its statutory mandate, sport associations cry government interference.

In all this ZC issue, players will bear the brunt of the suspension, as their source of livelihood has been disrupted. A whole lot are likely to retire from international cricket and look for opportunities in other countries since there is no domestic league.

It’s sad that it had to come to this and we can only hope that whatever the outcome, cricket will not die in Zimbabwe. But it’s also equally dangerous to prohibit local oversight where so much money is involved.