19 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Coltart Batting On Sticky Wicket

THE fallout between Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister, David Coltart, and Zimbabwe Cricket plunged to new depths at the weekend in the latest chapter of a frosty relationship clearly on the rocks.

On Friday ZC accused Coltart of twisting the resolutions of the Sports Commission's quarterly review meeting, with national sports associations, on December 1 last year.

Coltart had accused ZC leaders of shifting positions and going back on agreements, reached on December 1 that, going forward, national selection panels should be chaired by former national team players.

The ZC provided minutes of that December 1 meeting, which clearly didn't show any endorsement of the proposals by the national associations, and this will certainly leave Coltart vulnerable to accusations that he could be possibly be misrepresenting facts to push forward his agenda.

The minister has been forced to go on the defensive, for some time now, in the wake of the row that erupted in the implementation of the controversial package of reforms for national team selectors.

He was forced to deny charges by ZC convenor of selectors, Givemore Makoni, that he led a delegation of politicians to Cape Town, during the 2003 World Cup, to persuade England to abort their tour match in Harare.

Last week Coltart also appeared to question Andy Flower's version of events, when he named him as the man who played a central advisory role, in the planning and staging of the black armband protest.

The minister said Henry Olonga's version of events, in his book 'Blood, Sweat and Treason', gave an accurate record of what happened in 2003.

Coltart confirms that he went to Cape Town but, rather than persuade England to cancel their tour match against Zimbabwe in Harare, he persuaded them to come and play.

But that hasn't stopped the questions about his shadowy role in ZC affairs, something that could explain the lack of trust between the two parties - 10 years after Cape Town and the black armband protest.

Granted, as a politician it was within his rights to go there and preach his political gospel, which he certainly did, but didn't such a stand, especially taken without the knowledge of the ZC in an issue that had serious repercussions, financial or otherwise, on local cricket, put him on a possible collision course with the game's leaders?

Did he really, as Duncan Fletcher claims in his autobiography, smuggle Flower and Olonga into the England team hotel in Cape Town and, given these two were employed by ZC, was it right to take them there without the knowledge of their employers?

Was it right for Coltart to organise secret meetings between Flower and Olonga and the English cricketers, at their base in Cape Town, ahead of a key World Cup game between Zimbabwe and England?

Why would Coltart today take issue with people whom he now accuses of turning the selectors' issue political when, just 10 years ago, he was there in the trenches using cricket as a political too?

Last week, when he was addressing questions triggered by the commemoration of the black armband protest on BBC Radio Five Live, Coltart told The Herald that some unscrupulous people had hijacked a sporting debate and turned it political.

"I have only responded tonight because you put specific questions to me which I was obliged to answer - the point is that I would rather that the SRC Board now acts so that this very unfortunate episode, which has been made that way by unscrupulous forces, can be de-personalised and dealt with in the best interests of sport, not politics," said Coltart.

But, as Fletcher clearly shows in autobiography, something that was also confirmed by Flower last week, Coltart used cricket in his political games just 10 years ago.

Fletcher said there were endless meetings, at the Cullinan Hotel, and he was awoken one morning, at 3.30am, by England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive, Tim Lamb, who told him he wanted the team to go to Harare.

"And I agreed, I told him so then," Fletcher wrote in his book. "The situation turned political, nothing at all to do with cricket.

"Then came the famous letter from the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe, threatening the players: 'Come to Zimbabwe and you will go back to Britain in wooden coffins.'

"That certainly scared many of the players. But from the moment I heard it, I considered it a hoax. End of story. I was brought up in war-torn Rhodesia, so I was used to an environment of fear, but the players were not, so I could understand their apprehension.

"Before a final decision was to be made, we welcomed two incredibly brave visitors, who came to speak to me and Hussain.

"They were Zimbabwean players, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, smuggled in by a member of Zimbabwe's opposition party the MDC, who had spoken to the whole team before talking to me and Hussain, in an adjacent room, where we met Flower and Olonga.

"They told us then of their plans to wear black armbands during the games in the tournament to mourn that (democracy). They even suggested that we might consider wearing black armbands if we decide to play in Harare."

England, as it turned out, didn't tour Zimbabwe.

"And they decided unanimously not to go. I was not disappointed with the players because I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, so long as it is clearly thought through, and I was happy they were making a unified decision rather than individuals breaking ranks and making their own decisions, which could easily disrupt team ethic," said Fletcher.

"If there was one slight element of frustration in my mind, it was that I doubted whether the players really knew what the situation was like in Zimbabwe."

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