Some weeks before the World Cup earlier this year, a prominent English journalist beat the professionals and announced he wouldn’t be going to Zimbabwe on moral and ethical grounds.
The cricketers themselves waited until they had more information.
Why the journalist felt the need to create news, when he should have been reporting it, escaped most peoples’ comprehension. He became fretful and bullish when quizzed about his knowledge of the country and stated that he could not condone Robert Mugabe by reporting on a cricket match there.
He appeared not to know that most people who would have played in the match did not condone Robert Mugabe either, and a journalistic presence in that country was the only way to transfer news of his despotic regime to a worldwide audience.
South Africa’s concerns about touring Pakistan were very different. It is one thing to be vegetarian as a protest against battery farms, but quite another if the consumption of meat leads to heart failure. Graeme Smith’s team were concerned about being blown up, not whether General Pervez Musharaf is a good leader and president.
The similarity between the cases, though, is the importance of seeing with your own eyes and, even more importantly, looking into the eyes of the people around you. In many of the eyes in Pakistan there have been tears of relief and joy at the arrival of the South Africans. The welcome has been even warmer than the air temperature.
It is far, far too easy for all of us, in all walks of life, to stick with what we know and be suspicious of everything we don’t. But how do Jo’burgers feel when they meet someone, yet again, who has never travelled to their city because they “don’t want to be killed”?
And how did Capetonians feel four years ago when tourism figures plummeted to record lows because of the sporadic spate of bombings that hit the city? How did we feel? Sick and angry.
Fanatics and lunatics, believe it or not, are as rare in Pakistan as they are anywhere else in the world. (Perhaps Israel and Palestine aside). So while the players were right to ask questions, and the UCB acted with honour and dignity in the face of heavy criticism from some senior people in Pakistan, they are now seeing for themselves.
Whatever happens in the Test series, South Africa could make a huge contribution to the normalisation of Pakistan and its sporting contacts with the world, particularly the West.
The players won’t be able to appreciate the worth of what they are doing while the tension of the tour is upon them, but they will in the years to come provided the tour proceeds without major incident. They really, really will.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.