The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: The Question Coltart Won't Answer

FOR everything that Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart has said to back his controversial package of measures guiding the appointment of national team selectors, there is one fundamental question he hasn't confronted.

It's either he has deliberately skipped it or simply ignored it.

Do we have people in this country whose ambitions to play for the national team were blocked because of the colour of their skin?

And, if that is the case, is it fair, 33 years down the Independence journey, to re-open old wounds and draft measures that will elbow those people, out of their sporting structures, because they happened to have been victims of racial prejudice in the past?

If Coltart can take time to consider this question, he will probably see the critical flaws in the guidelines that he wants implemented, from February 1 this year, in which national team selectors need to have played for the national team.

If he can't take time to consider this question, then he simply is leaving himself vulnerable to attack from those who say Coltart has just repackaged himself as the new spokesman of the 2004 rebel movement that swept through Zimbabwe Cricket and left it teetering on the brink of collapse.

After this drama had largely played out to a domestic audience, this week it went a notch higher and reached the heart of the global cricket readership when it surfaced on the Cricinfo pages.

Coltart told Cricinfo that suggestions the measures were meant to keep black Zimbabweans out of the selection panel of the national cricket team were not true.

The charges were leveled against Coltart by Givemore Makoni, the current ZC convenor of selectors, who will lose his job if the measures are implemented because he never played for the national team.

"Not playing for Zimbabwe during our time did not mean that you were not good enough to play for the national team. Doors were closed for us," Makoni told Cricinfo.

"We fought that system and although we didn't benefit from it, in terms of playing for the national team, it opened the doors for a lot of black players.

"Now, we have black cricket players all over the country, cricket is spreading into a truly mass sporting discipline. We can't allow people to come and try and reverse all that."

Coltart said Makoni's remarks were "abusive and unnecessary."

Therein lies the minister's problem.

He is not confronting the big issue, which Makoni is raising, and somehow finds it appropriate to dismiss such a fundamental question as "abusive and unnecessary."

Abusive to who?

If Makoni has suddenly become abusive, simply because he is raising a valid point of how he was abused by a system that made it impossible for him to play for his national team, wouldn't he be right to assume that Coltart has no time for his question because he didn't suffer the same abuse?

If Makoni's remarks have suddenly become unnecessary, is that an admission that he is a victim and if so he is a helpless one because nothing will change and he will continue being the victim?

The fact that Coltart is white is a big factor in this row because it triggers a quick assumption, among the likes of Makoni, that he is not playing it fair.

And his actions are feeding that conspiracy.

It's something that the minister cannot pretend to ignore, especially when dealing with someone who comes out openly to say that I'm a victim of racial prejudice in cricket, and it's even worse when new measures are packaged, which have racial connotations, and applied to the same game.

Coltart has to address Makoni's case and one way is for the minister to come out publicly and challenge Makoni to prove that, indeed, his path to the national team was blocked by the colour of his skin and not the mere fact that there were others who were better than him.

That should be the starting point to address this case.

Interestingly, as Coltart probably knows, we won't just have Makoni coming up to tell his story.

We will have scores of others and, sadly, all this does not add any value to cricket and all it does is play the race card again and open the old wounds that were beginning to heal.

Lawrence Moyo, who covered the racial split in cricket extensively, this week claimed that Coltart was now simply championing the cause of the rebel movement of 2004.

"I agree with Makoni and all those who believe that Coltart's actions are tantamount to trying to restore discrimination in cricket," wrote Moyo.

"Everyone knows that there are very few black Zimbabwean cricketers who played for the national team.

"Just to show how desperate Coltart is, he lists Ethan Dube as one such deserving former player.

"Coltart justifies his nomination of Dube on the basis that he played once in 1990!

"Zimbabwe attained Test status in 1992 and by then Ethan Dube was nowhere near the national team.

"Could Coltart avail the scorecard that shows that Zimbabwe were indeed involved in an international (either ODI or Test) in 1990 and Ethan Dube earned a cap?

'Because there are no such events on official records -- CricInfo is the official record keeper by the way. You can only be considered to have played for Zimbabwe if you featured in an ODI, Test or T20 match and facts will find Coltart WRONG.

"And even if Ethan Dube had played one ODI in 1990, what will be so special about that one match to distinguish him from people like Makoni and Mangongo who have been with cricket for over 20 SUCCESSIVE years?

"Makoni and Mangongo have groomed the bulk of the black players to have featured for Zimbabwe in recent years.

"What has Ethan Dube done for cricket since 1990 that can be put up for reckoning other than being resident near Coltart and the Streaks?"

Given the emotive nature of this subject, there will be a lot of conspiracy theories.

One of those that emerged this week was that Coltart was allegedly targeting cricket and bowling and it wasn't just a coincidence.

The Streak family features prominently in both disciplines with reports indicating that Denis Streak was unhappy that he was left out of the Zimbabwe team for the World Bowling Championships in Adelaide, Australia.

Did Denis take his case to Coltart?

Maybe yes, maybe no!

Earlier this week the minister said all further communication, on the issue of selectors, will now come from the Sports Commission.

That certainly looks good because it's difficult for Makoni to suggest to Charles Nhemachena, the Sports Commission director general, that he is playing the race card, since they are both black.

But that won't solve this issue and Alan Butcher, the national coach, was right when he said it had come at a wrong time, and shifted focus from the forthcoming tour of West Indies.

Zimbabwe Cricket has achieved significant strides in mending its racial divisions but it's easy for things to explode once again and, sadly, the measures being fast-tracked by Coltart have the capacity to light the blue torch paper.

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