Olonga ready to renew sporting, cultural ties

Published: Monday, August 16, 2010, 12:53 [IST]
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Olonga ready to renew sporting ties

Henry Olonga, the first black cricketer to represent Zimbabwe national cricket team, has called for renewing sporting and cultural ties with his homeland ahead of a proposed match with the Scottish team.

Olonga, who left the country seven years ago after risking his life in a public stand against President Robert Mugabe's regime, spoke yesterday along with Zimbabwean Culture Minister David Coulthard.

Olonga, who now lives in London with his Australian wife and young child, wore black armbands when Zimbabwe hosted the sport's World Cup in 2003 in protest against Mugabe.

He told The Scotsman yesterday he is not prepared to return to the country, but that the world should encourage Zimbabwe to return to test cricket for the sake of young players.

"Personal safety is still a consideration for me, although the Zimbabwean government seems to be softening. The winds or change are blowing through the country. Maybe it's time now to consider bringing Zimbabwe out of isolation from a broader perspective," he added.

Olonga was speaking at the newly established Books, Borders and Bikes Blood gathering at Traquair House in the Borders.

Olonga's book -- Blood, Sweat and Treason -- was published this month.

"We still have the issue of slightly suspicious gentlemen running the sport," he said, singling out Zimbabwe cricket chairman Peter Chingoka and managing director Ozias Bvute.

But of Bvute, whom he clashed with during his World Cup protest, he added: "I don't really trust the man, but he has shown a genuine desire to re-engage with some of the former players."

He added: "They have extended the olive branch to players like Heath Streak and a few others, to try to get some of these players back involved in the running of cricket because their loss has cost the country."

Coulthard is a founding member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, a leading lawyer, and now minister of education, sport and culture in an uneasy coalition government lead by Mugabe.

He is visiting the UK to try to change his country's "negative brand". He wants to reassure sportsmen and women, or UK artists considering festivals in the cities of Harare or Bulawayo, that they do not risk a hostile or dangerous reception.

"My main task is to try to overcome that skepticism. I can't disregard it because in some respects, it's well founded," Coulthard said.


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