Australian blinkers

Neil Manthorp – 27/03/2002

Australia’s decision not to tour Zimbabwe is a political and moral one. To use the issue of player safety as a reason is a smokescreen designed to hide the fact that politicians are once again in charge of sport.

There is a compelling argument to support the Australian government’s decision not to be seen as condoning a president and a government that were obviously re-elected in dubious circumstances. The ‘free’ world needs to show solidarity in it’s appreciation of democracy.

However, there is a sickening amount of hypocrisy surrounding the issue this time. Zimbabwe has been kicked out of the Commonwealth for a year but did that stop South African golfers, tennis players and many other sportsmen from touring the world earning a good living while we were banned?

One of the most pertinent reasons for Australia’s decision is far simpler, far more straightforward.

Australian cricketers refused to travel to Sri Lanka during the 1996 World Cup because they deemed it to be unsafe. Never mind the fact that South Africa, for example, and India, Pakistan, Zimbabwe etc etc found no problem with the idea of playing in Colombo.

The problem for Australians is their geographical location. Being so isolated from the rest of the world breeds a national pride bordering on xenophobic jingoism. But it also breeds insularity, insecurity, paranoia and a desperate lack of education concerning the rest of the world’s affairs.

Australia is a country in which you are not allowed to cross the street until the little green man starts flashing and beeping on the traffic light.

Australia is a country where you are not allowed to drink a beer on a beach and where you cannot play with a beach ball in a cricket ground.

Little wonder the reaction is to go home when confronted with something new, different or confusing. So what should they have done?

How about thoroughly investigate the security situation and then explore the possibility of issuing a pre-tour statement in which the players, the ACB and the government made it clear that Australia’s cricketers were not making a political statement by playing in Zimbabwe and they were neither condemning nor condoning Robert Mugabe’s government. In the interests of sport in general, and cricket in particular, the game would continue.

That’s what South Africa would have done. But, unfortunately, that was probably never an the Australians considered given that at least half the squad admitted they would refuse point-blank to tour even if their Board said they should.

Australia is a beautiful country with many of the finest people I have met, but it is a long way from the rest of the world, in many ways.

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