The morning after

One of the many pleasures of experiencing a World Cup as a member of ‘staff’ rather than as a journalist is seeing and feeling the joy of victory from close quarters. Zimbabwe’s 175-run hammering of Canada on Monday was a fine result and was duly and properly celebrated in the company of a remarkable man.

The Minister of Sport, David Coltart, has joined up with the squad for a week and his enthusiasm has already had a marked effect on the players. Perhaps it isn’t so unusual for a politician of such standing and reputation to join the national team in the bar until midnight, and as beers were shared it felt more and more as though it was the most natural thing in the world, but even so, he commands a ‘presence’ that only a few people exude.

The founder of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) never spoke of politics – at least not within my earshot – or any aspect of his life which has so often been troubled by spending 30 years in opposition to Robert Mugabe and the ZANU PF party. He was there last night as Minister of Sport and a cricket lover.

Occasionally he would look at the clusters of players sitting around tables and take a deep, almost paternalistic pride in their mixed ethnicity and obvious comradeship. Before the match, he had addressed the players and reminded them that Zimbabwe was “the best country on earth” and that, unlike many other teams here, each and every one of them had been born and raised in the country they were representing. It was a powerful message.

The next match is against New Zealand, a country Coltart visited recently and managed to persuade that sport in general, and cricket, in particular, is a vehicle for change and progress. Coltart is also Zimbabwe’s Minister of Education (it is extraordinary how he manages both portfolios) and he was deeply moved by the New Zealand Department of Education’s donation of a million dollars to rural schools in Zimbabwe when he visited.

Whereas the British government has decided not to listen to Coltart and make its own decision about the potential worth of sporting contact with Zim, New Zealand’s ministers reached the conclusion that Coltart probably has a better idea of its value and have committed to touring later this year.

“Ignore sport and you ignore a chance to contribute to change,” says Coltart. Although not on Tuesday night. Instead, he moved from table to table, listening to the conversations with an eager ear and asking questions whenever possible. Not lame, ‘old uncle’ questions, but ones like: “Which teams do you think are best equipped to take advantage of the power-plays?” It was a point not many of the players had thought about – and certainly not after a couple of beers. They might have coped better with: “So, did you enjoy yourself today, son?”

It’s back to the hard graft in the nets now. And me to my laptop. The Minister remains genuinely distressed by the earthquake in Christchurch and would like Zimbabwe to show solidarity with the victims’ families and the survivors. But, like the man himself, it must be genuine and meaningful, not merely a gesture.

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