Finally, a voice of reason

HARARE - Race remains an overriding issue in Zimbabwean cricket, a sport that was a keystone of white Zimbabwean identity in the past.

But times have changed.

Most cricket players in Zimbabwe now are black - as are around 98 per cent of the population – although national representative teams from age-groups to the senior national side still retain a fair balance between the two main races, quite a remarkable feat in view of the dwindling number of white population in the country.

Against this background, you might be mistaken to think that, because the current status quo is irreversible and there can be no turning back, those who choose to remain in the game have accepted the existing state of affairs and learnt to live with it.

But it will be naïve to think we can so easily change minds, because racism in Zimbabwean cricket has been an institutional problem for so many years, perhaps ever since the first non-white person picked up bat and ball in this country.

Former Zimbabwe Under-19 team manager Dilip Chouhan once claimed in a documentary produced by Zimbabwe Cricket a few years back that players from Asian clubs like Universals and Sunrise would, on away games, change in the back of their cars because they were not allowed to use the changing rooms at white clubs.

Chouhan’s chronicle forms part of the legacy of racism in Zimbabwean cricket which confronts us to this day.

Again, we find ourselves at the centre of a furious race row, between Sports minister David Coltart and ZC, which has left many wondering if the local game can ever heal the scars of the past.

Disclosure by ZC chairperson Peter Chingoka, in an article published in the Daily News on Monday, of black and white players using separate buses on tour, as well as marked increase in the number of disciplinary hearings initiated by allegations of racism in the domestic league, makes sad reading.

It is quite disheartening, from Chingoka’s statement, that the practice of racism has cascaded to the age-group sides. This is an age group which must be used to promote harmony and togetherness.

The veteran administrator claims that at the Under-19 Cricket World Cup in Australia last year, white batsmen alleged that blacks were bowling short-pitched balls to them in the nets and counter allegations by black bowlers were that white fielders where reluctant to restrict runs from their deliveries.

When you have kids like the Under-19s, a supposedly untainted age group which must foster racial harmony, trying to physically harm teammates with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries during practice, or ruin a teammate’s stats by deliberately failing to restrict runs, all on the basis of skin colour, then you realise how deep-rooted this problem is. It’s a sad scenario, an insightful and somewhat scary reflection on inter-racial relations in the game.

Calls for a stakeholders’ conference to tackle the problem head on, in a spirit of openness, is therefore a noble move by Peter Chingoka.

Chingoka’s sober, dignified yet authoritative intervention – away from the escalating emotions, inflated egos and mudslinging – is a welcome development.

“To this end, we are proposing that the cricket community hold a stakeholders’ conference whose sole objective is to discuss and unpack the elements of our strained race relations with the objective of creating mutual understanding and dealing with the demons that continue to haunt our sport. Let us put a stop to innuendos, hidden agendas and politics of divisiveness, for if we all say that we are of the cricket family, then we must give cricket a fighting chance,” he said in a circular to stakeholders.

When ordinary channels of commination have failed, dialogue is the only way.

What the latest episode shows us is there is an underlying cause for racism in Zimbabwe cricket. It must be identified and candidly debated in an open forum as part of measures to deal with the legacies of the past.

Dialogue and openness is a proven method of allowing long lasting solutions to emerge.

Chingoka must be applauded for responsible leadership in the midst of a crisis that can further tear Zim Cricket apart.

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