Monday, 22 November 2004

Mike Gatting: anti-apartheid hero

There are all sorts of good reasons why England shouldn't be touring Zimbabwe, but Mike Gatting is perhaps the least qualified person to advance them. Still, he advances them anyway, in this Observer article. Gatting doesn't just say the tour is wrong: he says it's worse than the rebel tour to South Africa he led in 1990. "That may sound hypocritical" - yes, Mike, it does - "but the circumstances then were very different. When I signed up for that 'rebel tour' it was in the knowledge that change was already under way in South Africa". He goes on, "I'm not going to pretend that knowing changes were afoot was the main motivation for going" - no, the wads of cash waved in his face probably made more of a difference - "but it did help to persuade me and I'm sure it was a major factor in influencing the two black England players who signed up". Some of Mike Gatting's best friends are black.

Gatting goes on to claim that "Another big difference between my situation and that of present captain Michael Vaughan is that he has the full backing of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)". That's a difference, yes, but it's one which places Vaughan in a more difficult position than Gatting was in - for Vaughan to decide not to go would be a brave and right decision, but it would still place a great strain on the England team he leads, and possibly threaten his position as captain. Meanwhile, Gatting's decision to lead a tour harmed English and world cricket. It helped to undermine sporting sanctions against South Africa, as well as weakening the England team available to play real test matches.

The article reaches a pinnacle of self-justifying absurdity with its conclusion:
In the event, our tour was cut short when the organisers reached an agreement with the ANC that, in return for its cancellation, the political representatives of the black majority would help to fast-track the process of South Africa's readmission to official international sport. I can't see anything positive like that coming from this week in Zimbabwe.
So, his tour was justified because "the political representatives of the black majority" made important concessions in order to get it cancelled (this somewhat undermines his description earlier in the article of President F W de Klerk, who "was happy to speak to us and reassure us that he was not opposed to the planned tour", as "the leading reformer").

It's interesting that Gatting has managed to interpret the 1990 rebel tour as a vital blow in the struggle to end apartheid. But it's hardly evidence that his views on the rights and wrongs of England's tour of Zimbabwe should be taken remotely seriously.

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