In an ideal world, one wouldn’t want to see politics and sport on the same field. But sometimes, the issues are such drastic and overwhelming that only a protest or comment by sportspersons give it the attention it so desperately deserves. The last quarter of the 20th Century witnessed many a tyrannical ruler. Be it Sadam Hussain in Iraq or Muamar Gadaffi in Libya, these politicians ensured that normalcy didnt prevail in their countries.
The same applies to a man who claimed to be ‘Democratic’ and did what was ‘best for the people’. Robert Gabriel Mugabe-One of Zimbabwe’s most influential people of the past 5 decades and one must say that Mugabe is not one of the most popular men these days. While he was once considered their saviours, I sincerely doubt whether that still holds true for his countrymen. He played a central role in one of cricket’s greatest controversies
You must be wondering why I am mentioning all this. At least, I’m done with that and let me come to what I want to tell you. Zimbabwe have never been world beaters in cricket but they’ve had a few people who have made loud noise on and off the field. The likes of Duncan Fletcher, Dave Houghton, the Flower brothers and Heath Streak have been great ambassadors of the sport in their country. None though have had a greater impact than Andy Flower and Henry Olonga.
While Mugabe was virtually terrorising the people of his own country, Andy Flower, one of the world’s premier batsman and Henry Olonga, Zimbabwe’s first Black cricketer showed everyone around the world what courage really was.
The venue was the Harare Sports Club at the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. The date 10 Feburary 2003. Day- Monday. Flower and Olonga decided that they would wear black armbands as they were ‘mourning the death of democracy’ in their country and that they were making ‘a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in their country’.
Olonga and Flower had jointly released a statement on the morning of the match:
“In all the circumstances, we have decided that we will each wear a black armband for the duration of the World Cup. In doing so we are mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe. In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe. In doing so, we pray that our small action may restore sanity and dignity to our Nation.”
They knew that their career would be over, not that it would affect Flower who was to retire after the World Cup anyways but Olonga probably had a good future ahead of him and releasing this statement when a World Cup was being staged in their own country was surely an act of great courage.
Many wondered how this idea came up and Andy Flower did actually speak about it in an interview with the Guardian. If I put the full thing up, it’d take ages for you to actually read it. So here is a gist of it.
Nigel Hough, one of Flower’s good mates showed Flower how a once-upon-a-time flourishing farm which was thriving with people had become a community stricken with landless and poor people struck with poverty.
Flower instantly felt the need to show the world what was really happening in his beloved country and he couldn’t do it in a better way than expressing his feelings on the 22 yards- a place where he felt home.
Initially, Hough had suggested Flower to boycott the World Cup but that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, Flower decided that he’d do something that would be right and not something that would threaten his mere existence. And it must be said, Olonga was one brave lad to do this.
It was surprising at first to see Flower and Olonga do something together as they were certainly not the best of mates. Olonga too was surprised when he was approached with the idea, “I couldn’t figure out why this guy who hadn’t been prepared to give the time of the day for so long would want to talk to me now” he wrote in his autobiography; Blood, Sweat and Treason.
The World Cup of 2003 was known for many reasons; the rise of Kenya, Sachin’s batting and Australia’s domination among others but needless to say, what Andy Flower and Henry Olonga did was not only controversial but it changed how the world had perceived Zimbabwe and they’re protest certainly had a big effect as to why they would get better rights for their own countrymen.