Zim Cricket on a Sticky Wicket
Harare – Zimbabwe Cricket’s woes, in which the organisation is reeling from an estimated US$18 million debt, were played out in the august house of the country’s lawmakers last week as politicians and sports administrators combined in the latest initiative to arrest the decline of the game.
Domestic and international cricket has been frozen in Zimbabwe, since September last year, largely because of an impasse between players and the game’s leadership over unpaid dues with the ZC chiefs unable to battling to find fresh funds to foot a very expensive franchise.
The incoming tour of Sri Lanka was shelved, after ZC ran huge losses in hosting Bangladesh and Pakistan in back-to-back home Test, ODI and Twenty20 series, with rough estimates showing that each tour bled about US$1 million from the game’s fragile coffers.
Afghanistan, who had scheduled to tour Zimbabwe for a handful of ODIs and Twenty20 matches, the first by the Associate nation to a full member of the ICC, was also cancelled despite the Asians having committed themselves to bear the full costs of their visit.
ZC leaders also rejected an invitation from Cricket South Africa for them to play a one-off Test match against the Proteas, as part of the South Africans’ preparation for their showdown against Australia, because they could not raise a team against the background of their impasse with the players.
But why is Zimbabwe Cricket in such a financial mess?
In parliament last week, the ZC leaders played out their tale and told the country’s lawmakers that they have been the sporting victims of the sanctions, imposed on this country by some Western nations, with the decision by England and Australia, who guarantee box-office earnings in television rights to those who host them, not to tour Zimbabwe in the past 10 years inflicting a huge blow on the game’s earnings.
The ZC leaders insist that their game has been the sporting victim of the political standoff between Zimbabwe and some Western countries and domestic cricket has accumulated massive losses, running in excess of US$30 million in projected earnings, from box-office tours, involving cricket heavyweights England and Australia, which did not go ahead here as scheduled.
Based on the ICC Future Tours principle of reciprocity, the two heavyweight nations, would have toured Zimbabwe four times each, had their schedules not been bowled out by a political impasse, and with one England incoming tour to Zimbabwe earning the ZC about US$5 million in television rights receipts, and one Australian incoming tour generating about US$3 million, the losses for the local organisation have been significant.
The ZC leaders project that they could have earned a cool US$20 million from four England incoming tours alone, in the past 10 years, and another US$12 million from four Aussie incoming tours and, with earnings of about US$32 million, they could have taken care of the US$18 million debt that now weighs down heavily on their shoulders and has crippled their operations.
“But money is not the only loss. The players have missed out on exposure to top-level competition that would have increased their experience and so improved their game,” the ZC leadership claims.
“Even if the tours had comprised ODIs only as did India to Zimbabwe, one is talking about 20 matches against England and 12 against Australia. And that is a lot of learning.
“The blanks left on the international fixtures calendar because the tours did not happen was unwanted down-time which also had the effect of undoing momentum in-between the tours that did happen.
“Further, because of the stature of Australia and England, victories against them earn more points than those against say Bangladesh because the points are weighted. Thus, Zimbabwe lost the opportunity to possibly move up certainly on the ICC ODI rankings.”
A Member of Parliament, Tapiwa Matangaidze, believes ZC have to engage the European Union, whose delegation was due in Zimbabwe this week, and voice their concern and try and find a resolution to the political impasse that has kept the England cricket team away from Zimbabwe for the past 10 years.
“It is imperative that ZC should take advantage of the visiting EU delegation to lobby for the removal of sanctions that have affected the game and its leadership,” said Matangaidze.
“The International Cricket Council should take a leaf from other sporting bodies like Fifa and IOC, who in spite of all the negativity over Zimbabwe, continue to engage us as a sporting nation.
“At the Fifa World Cup draw, if England are drawn to play Argentina, it’s likely to be a bruising challenge because of the Falkland Islands issue. So, ICC should have no business in fuelling political tensions and should be seen to be promoting full and fair participation for all Test playing nations and even admonishing non-compliant nations.
“So Australia and England players should not be denied the chance to play their Zimbabwean counterparts at instigation of politicians.”
Interestingly, the ZC leaders are not only fighting against foreign forces and they used their appearance in parliament to also highlight internal forces which they claim are destablising the game because they are unhappy with the integration that has taken place in local cricket.
The ZC leaders have spread the game, taking it from being a small elitist sporting discipline that only served a tiny constituency of the country into a mass franchise that is only second, in terms of player personnel, support base and profile, to football.
But ZC vice-chairman, Wilson Manase, a prominent Harare lawyer, believes that their will to take the game to the masses has come at a very huge cost as there are pockets of resistance throwing spanners in everything that the game’s leaders do.
“The problem is the unseen hand from the elders who still have the hangover from the past period and now come to interfere in the administration and the players,” Manase told the parliamentarians.
“They come in and they want to control the strings from the back, yearning for those years when cricket was predominantly played by white people.
“So it’s not as though the players themselves are racists, but you find the unseen hand of elders, who are refusing to shake off the hangover, are the ones who are stirring the pot of racism and this why we said they should put their hands off cricket.
“There are the ones who demonise the administration and they are happy when a white player says, ‘I am leaving Zimbabwe Cricket and I am going to play county cricket in England.’ They say you will come back when times get better, what better times if you are truly Zimbabwean?”