Zimbabwe World Cup Boycott is a Moral Imperative

Cricket News 18/12/02

Report by Justin Lichterman

Writing in the English newspaper The Guardian on December 2nd 2002, David Hopps argues that boycotts are the province of governments and that the ICC should not boycott Zimbabwe during the upcoming cricket World Cup. Hopps’ analysis relies on one flawed premise: “The crucial problem with making a political stand and boycotting World Cup matches in Zimbabwe on grounds of conscience is this: the only people that it would punish would be Mugabe's opponents.”

Hopps takes pains to distinguish the sports boycott of Apartheid South Africa as legitimate, while nixing the idea of a similar boycott of Robert Mugabe’s hellish creation.  According to Hopps, South Africa was banished from international cricket only because South Africa's Apartheid regime drew enormous pride from its success in sports run on racist lines. The South African boycott therefore was more than just a moral imperative, but as an effective force for change. By contrast, according to Hopps removing international cricket from Zimbabwe “would remove a source of comfort and sustenance from many of those he has targeted. It would be gesture politics, and it would be mistaken.”

Unfortunately for Hopps, even were the moral imperative alone not justification enough for a boycott (it is), in this case he is mistaken. 

In Zimbabwe, cricket and politics are intricately related. Mugabe is the Zimbabwe Cricket Union’s patron – retained by unanimous decision, likely motivated by fear of the consequences of deciding otherwise. Mugabe once suggested that he wanted Zimbabweans to play cricket and grow up to be a nation of gentlemen, and, as Hopps details, he announced the result of the 1990 election at Harare Sports Club, to England A cricket captain Mark Nicholas, before the votes had even been counted. In a real way, cricket is a forum for Mugabe’s ego; it is a showcase, in his view an approving acknowledgement of his gentlemanly status and place as a legitimate world leader. Gentleman, you see, do not play cricket with knaves.

To take cricket away from Mugabe – particularly the World Cup – is not, as Hopps suggests, harmful only to those Zimbabweans who need cricket’s “comfort and sustenance.” It is harmful only to the tyrant Mugabe, a public slap in his face.

And what of that “comfort and sustenance?” Here, the words of Mary Casson, a Zimbabwean living with the repulsive prospect of normal cricket in Mugabe’s abnormal society best eviscerates such thinking: “The money spent on the press box at the Harare Sports Club grounds alone could feed countless people who need food, security and democracy - not runs, wickets and possible glory for a day.” What comfort cricket when one’s stomach is empty and one’s family tortured and murdered?

Hopps applauds the ICC's approach, the view that it is not cricket’s function to evaluate the political regime of any country, and that there have not been any sporting sanctions imposed on Mugabeland (for to call Mugabe’s country Zimbabwe is a terrorist falsity of nomenclature). Says Hopps: “Boycotts, should any boycott be deemed just, are the province of national governments. And, so far, England, Australia and the Netherlands have not been instructed to withdraw, and the rest do not seem to care.”

Unfortunate as it is to let facts stand in the way of a good opinion, Hopps’s view is as unsupported by history as by morality. South Africa’s sporting isolation began not with governments and Gleneagles, but with the MCC itself. It was cricket and cricketing institutions that took the lead by isolating South Africa - without government mandate - when the MCC withdrew from a tour because Pretoria refused to accept Basil D’Oliveira in the touring party.  That the South African boycott began not with government, but with sporting institutions, rendered it no less just or acceptable and any suggestion otherwise is stupid and offensive.

Mugabe has restricted who may enter Zimbabwe for the World Cup, blacklisting journalists critical of him and his thugs. He requires that any journalist entering the country sign a declaration agreeing to report only on cricket and steer clear of politics. One wonders, what if Shane Warne, or Nasser Hussain, or any one of several cricketers who often pen newspaper commentaries was to sleight Mugabe and his regime in print? No doubt, it would be D’Oliveira all over again.

For a final thought, we turn to Mary Casson, whose brave words risk her life as a prisoner of Mugabe’s murderous regime:

“Politics in Zimbabwe has gone far beyond people holding different opinions on how a country should be governed. The apolitical have to become involved because of the awful things that are happening. We are talking about being for or against real evil.

It is precisely because some players have, as farmers' sons, been directly affected by the current crisis in Zimbabwe that one hoped they might have had the moral courage to say that they are happy to play for ‘their’ Zimbabwe elsewhere, but not in ‘his’ Zimbabwe.

If our professional cricketers haven't got the courage to reject the most infamous lover of the game as their patron, let the ICC take that decision from them and move the venue to Bloemfontein. It would be a real morale booster to the thousands of brave people of all races who are fighting for justice and peace against all odds, and who often feel that the rest of the world does not care about the terrorism they fight daily.”

God be with you, Mary.

David Hopps - Boycotts Should be the Province of Governments

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