Cricket Australia, like other large sporting administrators in this country, is effectively a business organisation. It handles large sums of money, is concerned about brand and image and, with promoting a product for sale on the mass market. To encourage CA to do this responsibly, a business case approach is needed. In Zimbabwe, for the now cancelled tour for instance, CA and the federal government needed to construct a nuanced approach as if it was a longer-term investment (using the wider meaning of this term), not just a cricket tour.
The Zimbabwe tour may have been cast as an investment seeking guidance to ensure it is responsible and relative to the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe. Remember, there is no ban on doing business with Zimbabwe. Trade relations with Australia are tiny, but more or less unrestricted. There is no real ban on investing in Zimbabwe for Australian interests.
To ensure a responsible investment by CA in Zimbabwe a stakeholder approach might have been used to ensure the organisations involved deal more directly with those likely to be adversely affected by their activities.
The last decades have been rife with examples of business organisations ignoring stakeholders on the ground - as their home governments let them - while cosying up to venal governments overseas. Shell in Nigeria during the 1990’s stands as probably the most well known example. Doing business in Burma or pre-invasion Iraq are other prominent road marks along this sad trail.
In Zimbabwe, it is clear that Robert Mugabe has lost credibility not only internationally, but also within Zimbabwe. He and his cronies are still dangerous and relatively numerous, but no one should kid themselves that Mugabe has come to represent anyone other than a blinkered elite.
The masses that turn out to greet him on his monomaniacal walks through His People would probably kick the old man to death if they weren’t overseen by armed goons in dark glasses.
Many have suggested an Australian cricket tour would provide a cheap PR coup for Mugabe. But who would be taken in by it if it was done right?
The picture of Zimbabwe and Mugabe is that of a withered despot standing out front of a flag and a government building, surrounded by suits and thugs, but nothing else. Move the gaze a little and you see the vast majority of Zimbabweans who want nothing to do with the regime other than the contact they’re forced to have.
Why should these long suffering Zimbabweans miss out on some good cricket, an escape from the horrors of their predicament, just because Mugabe refuses to retire to his French estate?
The opportunity was therefore for CA and the federal government to take the pyjama team to Zimbabwe in a way that provides some succor to ordinary Zimbabweans. This is even if Mugabe gains some limited profile or even money from it. It’s surely worth more to Zimbabwe, the People, than to Zimbabwe, the Government.
A good, responsible approach would ensure this.
A number of possible scenarios emerge. There might be a ban on government photo-ops for instance, no formal government functions. Perhaps, instead of being prepared to foot the compensation bill in cancelling the tour, the government might have paid for advertising on the players’ uniforms saying something like “Australia says no to human rights abuses”, or “Australia calls for a free Zimbabwe”.
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