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Death of Democracy | Cricket’s biggest sacrifice

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Last updated on 10 Feb 2024 | 10:15 AM
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Death of Democracy | Cricket’s biggest sacrifice

Zimbabwe passed on a statement to the media explaining why they were wearing black armbands during their World Cup match against Namibia on February 10, 2003

Cricket’s popularity has always allowed players to stand up for the ideals they believed in. From the more recent “Pro-Palestine” one to the 2003 ODI World Cup’s famous “Death of Democracy”, the millions of eyes on a cricket match have often been used to highlight the humanitarian plights worldwide.

Zimbabwe legend Andy Flower’s decision to uphold Zimbabwe’s sad state was triggered when his friend Nigel Huff showed him the absolute massacre of his farm caused by the country’s land reform. Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian government had existed since 1980 but it had turned almost tyrannical in the 2000s and a public figure had to step up.

Flower approached Henry Olonga before making a decision because he believed his compatriot had "the courage of his convictions to take a stand". Apart from that, Flower also thought a compatriot from another race would really take the point home. 

"I also thought the fact that it would be one white Zimbabwean and one black one operating together gave the message the most eloquent balance," Flower had explained in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live programme.

Consequently, Zimbabwe passed on a statement to the media explaining why they were wearing black armbands during their World Cup match against Namibia on February 10, 2003. 

The statement read, “Although we are just professional cricketers, we do have a conscience and feelings. We believe that if we remain silent that will be taken as a sign that either we do not care or we condone what is happening in Zimbabwe. We believe that it is important to stand up for what is right. In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe."

Unfortunately, both Flower and Olonga knew there would be consequences although the extent of it was still unknown to them. It was a given that the players’ cricket career would be over but fast bowler Olonga believed he could still live in his country after the protest. 

"I had in my own naivety thought I could carry on in Zimbabwe - maybe my career would come to an end but I could still live there. But that all changed when I got death threats two or three weeks after the World Cup. I realized the game was up," Olonga would reveal.

The press, quite expectedly, made Flower and Olonga heroes overnight but the news wasn’t perceived lightly by the citizens. While the government’s unhappiness was expected, what stumped Olonga was the mixed reaction of the citizens.

“I look back on the black armband and the very people that we were trying to help, the subjugated, oppressed and downtrodden, these were the very people who turned against me. I felt vilified by my own people,“ an upset Olonga had told AFP in an interview.

While both Olonga and Flower were stripped of their Zimbabwe citizenship and both couldn’t return to the country ever again, Flower still played Essex in England and coached the England cricket team in the following years. Olonga, however, had to leave the game altogether.

He eventually married physical education teacher Tara Read in England and settled in Australia with children.

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