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Last Updated:  Monday, 10 February, 2003, 09:38 GMT
Zimbabwe duo condemn government
Henry Olonga
Olonga is a figurehead for black Zimbabwe cricketers
Zimbabwe players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga chose the occasion of the team's opening World Cup game to issue an outspoken attack on their government.

They decided to wear black armbands during the match against Namibia in Harare.

"In doing so, we are mourning the death of democracy in our country," they said in a joint statement.

"We are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe."

The chairman of Olonga's club side responded by suspending the player.

"It is disgraceful what Henry Olonga and Andy Flower have done," said Givemore Makoni.

"Taking politics onto the playing field is something that the ICC and other sporting bodies, including the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, have been avoiding.

"What is most disheartening is that Olonga has been a hero and role model to the black cricketing community."

President Robert Mugabe is patron of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union and the pair's decision is bound to embarrass officials.

We pray that our small action may help to restore sanity and dignity to our nation
Andy Flower and Henry Olonga

There have been reports that some members of the Zimbabwe squad wanted the six games due to be staged in their country switched to South Africa as a protest against the Mugabe regime's policies.

Until now, however, none of the dissenting voices have made their opinions public.

Captain Heath Streak, a firm supporter of the matches going ahead as scheduled, insisted last week that he was not aware of any divisions in the dressing room.

"We're just focusing on the World Cup and making the Zimbabwean people proud," he commented.

"We want to go out there and really fly the flag for Zimbabwe."

But Flower and Olonga believe that the suffering of the Zimbabwean population should not be overlooked.

The World Food Program estimates 7.2 million people, more than half the population, are short of food.

"We cannot in good conscience take to the field and ignore the fact that millions of our compatriots are starving, unemployed and oppressed," their statement continued.

"We are aware that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans may even die in the coming months through a combination of starvation and poverty and Aids."

Flower is the finest batsman ever produced by Zimbabwe, having score 4,794 runs in Tests and almost 6,500 in one-day internationals.

Olonga was the country's first black Test cricketer and took eight wickets during the 1999 World Cup to help them reach the Super Sixes phase of the competition.

Zimbabwe riot police dispersed civil rights activists trying to demonstrate on Monday against World Cup fixtures in the strife-torn country.

Witnesses said police chased away a handful of National Constitution Assembly (NCA) activists who had gathered for a lunch-time march in Harare's central business district.


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