Zimbabwe cricket racism hearing lags further

Published: Saturday, September 18, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Harare:The Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) and their dissident white players are champing at the bit to fire racism allegation broadsides at each other.

But they will have to keep their powder dry longer than expected.

A hearing set up by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to examine claims and counter claims of race discrimination following the sacking of former captain Heath Streak and his colleagues, slated for September 29 and 30, seems likely to be postponed, possibly by as much as two weeks.

It is now almost six months since Streak complained to the ZCU board of directors that the national selection panel, some of whom were inexperienced in first class cricket, chose black players ahead of whites who, he claimed, were superior cricketers.

He was angrily sacked, whereupon his colleagues demanded reinstatement and went on strike when this was refused. Weeks of fruitless and increasingly hostile attempts at negotiation eventually brought the debate back to its root cause - claims by both sides of racism.

The ICC eventually appointed India's solicitor general Goolam Vahanvati and a senior South African High Court judge Steven Majiedt to conduct a scheduled two-day hearing in Harare.

However, because the ZCU have appointed a lawyer to present their accusations and defence, believed to be a leading criminal defence specialist Chris Andersen, so the players feel they must do the same.

They have asked another top lawyer Adrian de Bourbon to represent them but do not have the funds to brief him, according to a player spokesman who does not wish to be named.

The players have asked the ICC to help with legal costs and also with the travel expenses of several former Zimbabwe players, he said, including Streak, Andy Blignaut, Grant Flower and a former Test seam bowler Bryan Strang.

The spokesman complained that ICC, in particular chief executive Malcolm Speed, "is being tardy about helping us."

He believes the hearing will need to be over five days, not two, and that it will almost certainly be delayed until the second week of October. A neutral venue has not even been arranged, he said.

Apart from specific instances of alleged racism, the ZCU will claim whites did next to nothing to bring black cricketers into the top level of the game, even 20 years after independence, and this is the root cause of the problem.

ZCU papers already presented to the ICC executive suggest that white indifference to black player aspirations eventually brought about a formal integration "Task Force" programme in 2001.

Immediately whites claimed the ZCU aimed at quotas for blacks, regardless of merit, while the ZCU insists they were merely goals.

The players' main claim is that blacks were selected ahead of better white players and that this was a political as much as a racial policy - which they say is in breach of the constitution. They will also put forward a large number of examples of alleged racism at a personal level.

One instance relates to a five hour negotiation meeting in May between the ZCU and Streak, Blignaut and Flower with their lawyer Chris Venturas, who said afterwards: "Not in my entire experience in Zimbabwe have I been subjected to so much racial invective."

It is the players who have persuaded the ICC to set up the hearing.

But majority opinion in Harare is that it is more likely to exacerbate a rising level of racism in Zimbabwe than cool it down, and that whatever Vahanvati and Majiedt recommend to the ICC afterwards it can have no positive effect on the dispute.

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