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Olonga Adamant Tour Should Be Called Off


Olonga Adamant Tour Should Be Called Off

By Kevin List - Scoop Chief Reporter

Zimbabwe’s first black test cricketer Henry Olonga.

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Zimbabwe’s first black test cricketer Henry Olonga, surmised that ‘life would be very uncomfortable’ should he return to Zimbabwe. Mr Olonga, who now lives in England, famously wore a black armband to protest the ‘death of democracy’ during the 2003 Cricket World Cup. Olonga's stand meant he cannot return to Zimbabwe while Robert Mugabe remains in power. His protest is a lonely vigil with only one other Zimbabwean cricketer having chosen to join his protest – arguably Zimbabwe’s finest batsman ever - Andy Flower.

Olonga is on a whistle-stop tour of New Zealand - organised by the Green Party. He explained at a press conference in Wellington the difficulties faced when sport and politics intersect – especially in Zimbabwe.

“It is very difficult to stand up in Zimbabwe if you are a black player and a young player as well…You must remember that a lot of them are from low income families and playing cricket for Zimbabwe is a huge step up for them - they get vehicles, they get mobile phones and good salaries. They are unlikely to rock the boat,” he said.

Mr Olonga considered there would be more resistance to a tour by the white Zimbabwean players.

“It is very likely they will feel aggrieved by what is happening in the country. I used to live with two white players so I don’t have a racist bone in my body – the Government called white people 'enemies of the state'.

“I think it is almost as if the Government is deliberately polarising the nation along racial lines,” he said.

The example of Heath Streak and his farm ownership was brought up.

“He [Heath Streak] lost his farm and then they made him captain of the team and he said he was only going to be captain of the team if he got his farm back and it kinda happened…he got his farm back.”

Whilst Mr Olonga explained that while some people questioned Heath Streak’s motives and convictions as to what was happening in Zimbabwe, he wasn’t one of them.

"I really think he’s a great guy. I’ve known him and played with him through Matabeleland for many years.”

Mr Olonga was definitely not in agreement with ACT MP Stephen Franks who put out a press release today following a Beehive briefing with Mr Olonga.

[ I asked Henry Olonga what assessments had been made comparing the one day wonder impact of a tour cancellation with the daily embarrassment that our cricketers could generate for Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

“To the obvious chagrin of Rod Donald the honest Mr Olonga explained that there were very mixed feelings in Zimbabwe. Some opposition MDC MPs in Zimbabwe, for example, hope the tour goes ahead because it will mean journalists must be allowed entry to cover it and even the tightest security will make news itself. The outcome could be continual world attention that at present can’t happen,” stated Mr Franks.]

Mr Olonga cleared up any confusion about his feelings on the tour.

“My position is pretty consistent. I think the tour should be called off. It should be the start of a snowball effect of a whole heap of measures put in place to bring some reforms,” he said.

Mr Olonga accepted that should the tour go ahead, the glare of publicity may be beneficial to the movement for democracy within Zimbabwe. He was however rather less optimistic about these intangible benefits than Mr Franks.

Mr Olonga explained that when Australia recently toured Zimbabwe, statements made by Australian cricketers were used by the Mugabe regime for propaganda purposes.

“Robert Mugabe is a pretty arrogant man and he has up until now done nothing but scorn the media and the West which tries to put pressure on him to reform."

As patron of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union If the tour were called off it would be perceived as a "slap in his face and would embarrass him,” he said.

South Africa's position has disappointed Olonga: “I am always surprised at why South Africa isn’t taking a stronger stand.”

South Africa was not the only cricket playing nation burying its head in the sand over the issue of playing cricket in Zimbabwe however: “I believe that cricket playing nations, apart from New Zealand, Australia and England, have no desire of any kind for strong condemnation of Zimbabwe,” he said.

Mr Olonga has been getting up early and working till late to get his message opposing the tour out. As someone who has lost the ability to live in his homeland following his protest, his message to New Zealanders, and especially politicians who think sport and politics shouldn’t mix, was blunt.

“Shame on us if we don’t try and attempt to get some headway on this issue,” he said.

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