There was an air of resignation when Zimbabwe’s rebel players
met for the final time amid the surreal calm of Harare’s Botanical Gardens.
Eight months after Heath Streak’s controversial departure as captain, the
subsequent boycott by 15 white players and the ensuing inquiry by the ICC
into racism, only half a dozen rebels remain. And last week’s decision to
pull out of the ” alternative dispute resolution” process ended their
attempt to reach a compromise with Zimbabwe Cricket.
The group – Grant Flower, Stuart Carlisle, Craig Wishart, Trevor
Gripper, Neil Ferreira, Chris Venturas, their lawyer, and Streak,
represented via a mobile phone line from his farm near Bulawayo – attempt to
put a brave face on things. But the senior players admit that, without the
departure of two Zimbabwe Cricket officials, Macsood Ebrahim, the chairman
of selectors, and Ozias Bvute, a board member, they are unlikely to play for
their country again.

Flower, who joins his brother, Andy, at Essex next season,
summed up the mood when he said: “After this inquiry, there’s nothing more
to be done. Now they’ve said there’s no basis for racism, what else can you
do?” Carlisle, an experienced team-mate, said that the players “have lost
complete trust in the ICC”. They are still smarting about the way the
inquiry was run by Goolam Vahanvati, India’s solicitor general, and Steven
Majiedt, a South African high court judge.

Despite ruling that witnesses would give their evidence in
camera, the judges failed to penalise Bvute and Ebrahim when they refused to
leave the courtroom. As a result, the inquiry collapsed and the players’
verbal statements alleging racial and regional discrimination in Zimbabwe
Cricket selection policy were not heard.

Venturas presents the legal battle as setting a precedent for
global sport. “There’s never been a strike like this in sporting history,”
he said. “These guys have come up short, but Zim cricket will benefit
because the world of cricket is a more accountable place.”

Carlisle believes that the ICC inquiry’s eight recommendations
endorsed the players’ grievances “without having the courage” to find in the
rebels’ favour. “The recommendations are exactly what we were asking for
seven months ago, so indirectly we probably won the inquiry without even
giving oral evidence,” he said. “They stated that there is a problem with
some directors, that (Peter) Chingoka (the chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket) has
to do something, that selection criteria is wrong.”

None of the rebels accepts the need for quotas, but Bvute argues
that Zimbabwe Cricket is just trying to develop young black talent and
create a racial balance in the national team more representative of
Zimbabwean society.

Zimbabwe Cricket has set itself a number of goals in its
Integration Task Force document, “which is premised on inclusivity” and was
endorsed by the ICC, he added.

But Carlisle said: “You’ve got documents saying a crowd should
be 75 per cent black by the year 2005 and that there should be seven
non-whites in the team. Regardless of whether they’re goals or quotas, it’s
discrimination,” he said.

The bitter stand-off has whittled down the number of rebels.
Some, such as Andy Blignaut, Travis Friend and Sean Ervine, headed for
Australia and three players, Gavin Ewing, Barney Rogers and Mark Vermeulen,
have gone back to Zimbabwe Cricket.

“Barney and Gavin are young, you can’t hold too much against
them,” Carlisle said. “But I have a big problem with a guy like Mark
Vermeulen. He said to us that if even five or six of us go on strike, he’d
be right there with us.”

This piece appeared in the Times on 24 November 2004


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