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Rock, Cricket Australia, Hard place.

Submitted by rickeyre on May 12, 2007 - 5:56pm

There seems to be almost universal support in this country for the abandonment of Australia's ODI cricket tour of Zimbabwe pencilled in for September. The pollies all agree, the commentariat seem to all agree, the Roman Catholic Church agrees, the only dissenting voices I have seen are from the Zimbabwean Ambassador to Australia (well he would, wouldn't he?) and former Test batsman Vusi Sibanda, who now lives in Sydney.

Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo gave a speech to the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney on May 3 in which he discussed the current humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. The Lowy Institute website has powerpoint displays and an MP3 of his presentation.

The question which seems to be perplexing everyone at the monent is: How to cancel the tour without making Cricket Australia liable for a $US 2 million break fee?

There are two main criteria by which a cancellation of a tour under the Future Tours Programme Agreement would be acceptable, and as quoted by the ICC the other day:

  • If there are circumstances likely to give rise to a serious risk of death or personal injury to the players and/or officials due to take part in the Tour concerned or in respect of which appropriate insurance is unavailable on reasonable terms, such circumstances constitute acceptable non-compliance.
  • If the government of one of the Members refuses “to grant a consent, exemption, approval or clearance or imposes any restriction or prohibition” for its team to tour another country, these circumstances constitute acceptable non-compliance.

Whilst Cricket Australia are currently arranging the routine pre-tour security checks in Zimbabwe, there would appear to be little chance of the first criterion coming into play unless there was either widespread civil disruption in Zimbabwe or specfic threats against the safety of the team.

So how does the Australian Government prevent the tour from going ahead, within the confines of Federal law and without creating an excessive restriction on civil liberties?

The government cannot simply place a "ban" on a sporting team touring another country. While it is responsible for the issuing of passports to Australian citizens, it cannot impose any restrictions on where Australian passport-holders travel overseas. Other countries can decline to give them entry visas, but our government cannot do anything about it one way or another.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns Australians to exercise caution in Zimbabwe, but as can be seen from the travel advisory on, the current level of warning is only on the third of five levels of urgency. By way of comparison, Iraq and Palestine are both in the "do not travel" category, but even then that does not amount to a prohibition. Among cricketing nations, both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have higher warning levels than Zimbabwe at the moment.

There's a thought that the government could suspend the Australian team's passports for the duration of the tour. Bad idea in my opinion, and a dangerous precedent. Apart from imposing a penalty for which the players have done nothing to warrant, it would in fact prevent them from going overseas at all. And some of the selected players could be otherwise available to play county cricket in England if the tour were stopped.

There's also the slight problem that we don't know when the passports would have to be suspended as no exact dates for the tour have been set. As I mentioned above, if a passport is suspended, it is suspended for all overseas travel.

The answer, I believe, lies in trade sanctions. As professional cricketers taking part in a tournament generating revenue from advertising and television rights, the team would be engaging in foreign trade with Zimbabwe.

At the moment there are no sanctions that would prevent them from trading in Zimbabwe. The current list of Australian sanctions against Zimbabwe can be found here, and also see the press release from Alexander Downer dated 4 March 2004.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has a list of the Zimbabwean citizens who are specifically targetted in the sanctions as associates and family of Robert Mugabe. Apart from Mugabe himself, the Patron of Zimbabwe Cricket, I don't recognise any cricket officials among them.

Despite some of the confusingly-titled pages on the DFAT site to which I have linked, there are no United Nations sanctions against Zimbabwe. Indeed, Zimbabwe's Environment and Tourism Minister, whose name appears on the RBA list, was appointed yesterday as the new chairman of the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development.

So, the question is: Is it appropriate for the Australian Government to apply trade sanctions against Zimbabwe in relation to professional sporting tours, and if so, how to do it?