Around the bases

Tariq Engineer

“My personal opinion [is] that we would prefer them not to go. But there is a difference between doing that and ordering them not to go, which I think would step over the proper line.” -British prime minister Tony Blair pronounces on whether England should tour Zimbabwe

Despite the pronouncements of the British prime minister, the International Cricket Council (ICC) is insistent that the English team tour Zimbabwe. A commitment is a commitment, claims the ICC, and it has even gone so far as to threaten the English Cricket Board with sanctions and/or suspensions if they fail to tour. The tour must go ahead, says the ICC, because tours can only be cancelled for cricketing reasons. The ICC also stands to lose a large sum of money should the tour be called off.

The English Cricket Board in turn finds itself up against a wall. The board was hoping the British government would forbid them from touring, thereby taking the decision out of the board’s hands. But the government has balked at doing so, preferring to offer a recommendation, as is evident from Tony Blair’s comment above. One member of the ECB has already resigned over the affair. The current chief executive, Tim Lamb, is facing a vote of no-confidence, and will in all probability be removed before too long.

Meanwhile the players themselves are torn over the issue. The board has maintained the players will tour, albeit with heavy hearts. The matter, though, is far from settled. Alec Stewart, a stalwart of the English cricket team in the 1990s, has come out and said the tour is morally wrong. Graham Thorpe, a current stalwart, has come out and said that he is undecided about whether he will tour with the team. At the same time Thorpe says it is unfair for any individual cricketer to make the decision.

But there is precedent for just such an eventuality. A few weeks ago, Stuart Macgill came out and stated that he would not be available for selection for Australia’s tour to Zimbabwe. Macgill claimed his conscience would not let him do so. There is no reason why the English cricketers cannot follow suit.

Merely because the various boards, councils, and governments involved are indulging in buck-passing does not mean that buck never stops. Just because the ICC has failed its members, and the ECB has failed its players, does not mean that the players cannot take responsibility for their own actions. Perhaps they shouldn’t have to make such a decision, but that is the situation they find themselves in regardless. Now is the time for them to stand up for what they believe in.