11 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Race Storm Hits Cricket

ZIMBABWE Cricket convener of selectors Givemore Makoni yesterday made sensational claims that black technical staff could systematically be driven out of the game's key structures, which deal with the selection and coaching of national teams, triggering another split along racial lines.

Makoni, who is also the chief executive of Southern Rocks, accused Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart of driving a campaign to keep selection and coaching portfolios, indirectly, to white coaches through a raft of proposed measures.

The Sports Commission on Wednesday issued a directive that, with effect from February 1 this year, the appointment of national team selectors, in sporting disciplines where such processes were conducted by a selection panel, would now be covered by new guidelines.

Only people who have represented the country at national level, in those sporting disciplines, would now be considered for a position on the panel of selectors.

The Sports Commission said this was meant to "foster improved competitiveness of our national teams which, in turn, will assist in creative development opportunities for sportspersons while contributing to the positive image of Zimbabwe".

It means someone like Stephen Mangongo, the celebrated assistant national team coach who has been credited with coaching some of the country's finest players like Tatenda Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura, will be ineligible to either stand as a selector or a coach of the national cricket team.

Interestingly, Mangongo is one of the three coaches in the running to replace Englishman, Alan Butcher, when his contract runs out this year, but under the new regime, he won't be eligible for selection, leaving the door open for a straight battle between Heath Streak and Grant Flower.

Yesterday Makoni said while the Sports Commission was dressing its project in national colours, to give it widespread appeal, it remained one that was targeting cricket and, in particular, the black technical staff who have worked their way into key positions in the selection and coaching arms of the national teams.

Makoni said as far as he could recall, cricket was the only major sporting discipline in the country whose national teams were selected by a panel of selectors and claimed Coltart, through the Sports Commission, had turned his guns on him and his panel.

The former Takashinga player did not represent the country at national level, going only as far as the Mashonaland teams, but claims it would be grossly unfair to judge his generation given they played the game at a time when, at most, there were only two slots reserved for black players in the national team.

To bar them from participating in the key structures of the game today, said Makoni, on the basis of them not having played for the national team, without looking at the bigger picture that they were victims of a cruel and unjust racial system that froze them out of the team, would not only be hypocritical but an extension of that evil programme.

"Not playing for Zimbabwe, during our time, did not mean that you were not good enough to play for the national team because the doors were closed and there were only two places, all the time, for the black players in that team.

"That's how we ended up with the Pommies (Mpumelelo Mbangwa) and (Henry) Olongas in that team.

"It was a system that made it impossible for us to play for our national team and not that we were not good enough and it was not only limited to the senior national team but also the junior national teams and you saw it at Under-14, Under-16 and Under-18 levels.

"I remember quite well that in 1988 I went for the Under-15 national trials at Prince Edward and after I had scored 98, I was retired, because the system didn't want it to be seen that I could make a century and qualify for that team since the places reserved for us blacks had already been filled.

"We fought that system and although we didn't benefit from it, in terms of playing for the national team, we can see that it opened the doors for a lot of black players and I am proud to say that I was one of the founder guys who came up with Takashinga and put up that cricket facility, which changed a lot in Zimbabwe Cricket, in Highfield.

"There was racism or racial tendencies, whatever you call them, throughout the game and there was even a Royal Family in cricket, which was untouchable, but we fought all that and, slowly, we started making in-roads and it has led us to where we are today.

"Now, we have black cricket players all over the country, the champions of the Under-16s are Masvingo, something that was unheard of in the past, and cricket is spreading into a truly mass sporting discipline because the boys know they don't need to go to St George's, as was the case during our time, for them to play for their national team.

"We can't allow people to come and try and reverse all that, under the guise that they want to ensure only quality staff are in certain positions in the national teams, because when you look at it, how many black players, who have retired, will be in the running for such posts right now?

"You have to go to Pommie and, hopefully, he will leave his commitments in South Africa to come back for that or you have to go to Olonga and ask him to come back from England or Taibu who only recently left the game saying his calling was elsewhere.

"Three, four, five black guys, and all of them committed elsewhere in one way or the other, and what does this do -- it opens the door for the real appointments, the hidden agenda that is being driven, and unfortunately the issues takes another racial tone."

Makoni claimed Coltart was driving the campaign.

"I have no doubt in my mind that it's David Coltart who is behind this and the reason is simple - he never believed in people like us that we can make the national cricket team competitive either as coaches or as selectors," said Makoni.

"Those of us who were in the trenches and fought for equal opportunities, who were there when the white players walked away, have always felt that the minister sympathised with their cause better than he did with ours and maybe he feels like he still owes these guys a little favour.

"The minister wants to project himself as something like a Messiah who is there to save cricket but, as far as some of us are concerned, he doesn't represent our interests and I feel he needs to look at the role, or roles, he played when our game suffered at the height of that rebellion by some white players.

"When England didn't come here for the World Cup, who were the people who went to Cape Town to tell the England team that coming here would not be good, both politically and for cricket, and where was that heart for the game and passion for national success when that was happening?

"It doesn't mean that one to be a very good coach, or selector, he needs to have played the game at a national level and, if the Minister of Sport and the Sports Commission want to effect that, then why don't they also start from the very top and say the minister should have played sport for the national team?

"The minister criticised me personally, during our tour of New Zealand, and I read a lot of the things he says in the newspapers and on the Internet but I want to ask him to tell me just one thing, which he can point out, that he has done for cricket.

"You can't talk about re-establishing ties with New Zealand and Australia because that can't be compared to establishing Takashinga and all that this club has done to Zimbabwe cricket."

Makoni said he believes he was now being victimised for daring, as convener of selectors, to drop some of the players who shouldn't be touched.

"We say we will select our team strictly on form, on stats and on whether the players bring balance to the team and we don't look at the colour of the players or their age," said Makoni.

"We dropped one or two players last year and it created a storm but we have dropped Elton right now, purely on form, and it's all normal."

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