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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Columns > Prem Panicker

Contract killing

February 20, 2003

This just in -- Kenya has been awarded full points for its game against New Zealand; a game scheduled for tomorrow, and now called off as the New Zealanders have reservations about playing in that country and the International Cricket Council is not prepared to reschedule the game.

We are told that the news has occasioned massive celebrations across Kenya. Statues have been hastily commissioned, of the ICC, and will be erected shortly.

Surprised? Don't be -- Kenya has every cause to be grateful to the governing body of the game. After all, the ICC --- which believes in globalization -- magnanimously, allowed Kenya to stage a couple of World Cup games, purely in the spirit of increasing interest in cricket in that country.

The ICC was not, as it made clear, prepared to give Kenya host-country status -- the specious reason given being that Kenya is not a Test-playing nation.

Err… so? Two years ago, the ICC thought Kenya was good enough to host the ICC Knock Out Tournament -- but when it comes to the World Cup, suddenly, Kenya is good enough to host a couple of games, but not good enough to be given the title of co-hosts!

This is not a petty crib. The problem is that if Kenya had been given co-host status alongside South Africa and Zimbabwe, it would have gotten to share in the profits of the Cup. By denying Kenya that status, the ICC in effect told them: You guys spend your money, do up your stadium to our satisfaction, and we will throw you a bone in the form of a match or two.

Kenya, in its enthusiasm, did as asked, and spent money not only upgrading the Gymkhana ground, but also lavished further amounts on beefing up security there to the sort of levels the pampered darlings of international cricket would feel comfortable with.

Now they are being told all bets are off. The game is off, so no gate collections to look forward to -- and more importantly, all that investment down the drain.

But there is a silver lining for a poor nation like Kenya that finds itself even poorer after that needless expenditure -- it gets four points!

Cue in the hosannas; let the celebrations begin!! I mean, can't you see the dancing in the streets of Nairobi, over the fact that they have just bought four valuable World Cup points for the heck of a lot of money?

There is another aspect of this situation that needs thought. In the lead up to the Cup, much debate centered on the contracts that players and teams were supposed to sign.

Remember how it went? When it was speculated that some of the Indian stars might refuse to sign, and India might have to send a second string team, the ICC huffed and it puffed and it said it would sue the Indian board, that it would expect the BCCI to pay monetary compensation.

Fair enough -- a contract is a contract.

But did England and New Zealand sign contracts too? Did these contracts specify, among other things, that they would have to adhere to the rules and regulations governing the competition? Do these rules include the clause that you go where you are asked to go, and play, no excuses?

By boycotting Zimbabwe and Kenya respectively, have England and New Zealand flouted sections of that contract?

The answer to all the above is, yes.

So is the ICC going to sue? Ah -- no!

So when is a contract not a contract? Anyone know?

Postscript: Here's a funny thing. England boycotts Zimbabwe. Why? Security, they say now -- but that is pure rubbish. The so-called threat comes from an organization called the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe -- an outfit no one in Zimbabwe, or outside, has ever heard of. Scotland Yard proclaims that the threat is not real; Tim Lamb on behalf of the ECB says the threat is not real.

The other day, while we were doing audio commentary, we had David Hopps of The Guardian join us, live. And Hopps -- who said that by boycotting Zimbabwe, England's cricketers had let down the game and the country -- made the point that while such fuss was being made about security in Zimbabwe, England itself was facing security problems.

The army, Hopps pointed out, was out in strength, safeguarding England's airports and other key installations following the threat of terrorist strikes -- so hey, England is demonstrably more unsafe just now than Zimbabwe is.

But then, safety was merely the last minute excuse -- this whole thing was political all along. England -- which incidentally had no qualms, political or otherwise, when Zimbabwe participated in the Commonwealth Games, or when an England team visited Zimbabwe in 2002 -- was making a political point, apparently, against Robert Mugabe's oppressive regime.

Great. Put your hands together, folks, for the England team's brave stand against a dictator. And while you are about it, put it together, too, for the ICC which permits England to do so, merely levying a four-point penalty for that team's refusal to play.

But answer me this -- if it is okay for England to make such political points, why is it not okay for Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, two brave Zimbabwean players, to make such a protest?

When Olonga and Flower took the field the other day wearing black armbands, what happened? Simple -- the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (read Robert Mugabe, who is the head of the ZCU) petitioned the ICC about the activities of those two players. And the ICC promptly came up with an injunction to the effect that such a form of protest was not acceptable, and that the players could not wear black armbands!

With what authority does the ICC prevent two gutsy cricketers from risking their all to make a protest on behalf of their countrymen?

The ICC, in this entire issue, is living up to the classic definition of a corporation: A body with no heart to appeal to, and no butt to kick.

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