In sport as in politics, money power trumps moral power. The US has money power but lacks moral power; Nelson Mandela has moral power, but has been using it sparingly. Eight years ago, he asked Robert Mugabe to retire. Then nothing. Till last week, when he spoke about the "tragic failure of leadership" in Zimbabwe. Not much, you might think.
In sport as in politics, money power trumps moral power. The US has money power but lacks moral power; Nelson Mandela has moral power, but has been using it sparingly. Eight years ago, he asked Robert Mugabe to retire. Then nothing. Till last week, when he spoke about the "tragic failure of leadership" in Zimbabwe. Not much, you might think. But it is a step, and one that India and its cricket board can follow up. After all, it was Mandela's clean chit to South Africa in 1991 that hastened that country's re-entry into international cricket.
As the International Cricket Council sits down to decide on the Zimbabwe issue, India have been presented with a chance to look beyond self-interest. The ICC needs seven votes (out of ten) to remove Zimbabwe from the high table of Test-playing countries, but India are a major stumbling block. In recent years, India have carried their vote-bank politics into the ICC, scratching a back today in order to get their own back scratched tomorrow.
Zimbabwe have stood by India; most recently when they cast their vote for Sharad Pawar in the ICC Presidency stakes. That seems more important, in the reckoning of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, than the human rights violations in Zimbabwe, the question of racism (there are hardly any white cricketers left in that country), and the misappropriation of millions of dollars, as documented by the ICC's own auditors.
The Indian Board might feel Zimbabwe is not their problem - after all, South Africa and England who have broken off cricketing ties did so only following their governments advice - and pass the buck. The ICC, which has the backbone of an amoeba, has never grasped the nettle, perhaps knowing that unless India moved, there was nothing it could do.
In a passionate attack on the authorities, Peter Roebuck wrote thus a few months ago, "(Zimbabwe's officials) Peter Chingoka and Ozias Bvute and their loathsome henchmen are Zanu-PF loyalists in sheep's clothing. Chingoka has grown fat as others starve. As pitches go unprepared and grass grows high, he has bought property in London, built a house in Cape Town, invested heavily in companies, and made a fortune in a bankrupt land."
"Bvute is the type that appears when there is easy money to be made. His family lives in New York. Not so long ago, in a brief period under a cloud, Bvute was able to transfer a large sum of money to them. He has also bought a mansion in Harare, a purchase assisted by cricketing forces."
These are no secrets, but if the BCCI chooses to sup with the devil, it would have worked itself into the position of the sole super power in that other related field, politics. To claim that politics and sport do not mix is naive. In the days of apartheid, those working against it in South Africa used the rallying cry, 'No normal sport in an abnormal society'. It applies to Zimbabwe today. South Africa's sporting isolation contributed to the dismantling of apartheid.
Zimbabwe will argue that it would be unfair to demote them as ICC member or ban them altogether since no other sport is doing so. That cannot be an excuse. As far as the BCCI is concerned, it has been presented with a chance to rise above money, marketing and political convenience.
It is good to control the money power in sport, but there is something to be said for combining that with moral control too.