Zimbabwe offspinner Prosper Utseya has, in a letter to Zimbabwe Cricket, claimed that he is a victim of racism and has levelled a string of allegations against Alistair Campbell, managing director of ZC. In a letter to Wilson Manase, ZC chairman, Utseya claims Campbell:
Has a “personal agenda” against him which influenced his non-selection [in the playing XI]at the recent World Cup.
Appointed white coaches and administrators during his 2010-2012 stint as chairman of the cricket committee in order to take control of cricket.
Had a conflict of interest in setting up Dominus Sport, the company that ran ZC’s marketing affairs during his time as cricket committee chairman, and his actions had an impact on ZC’s funds.
Utseya confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that he had written the letter after the World Cup and prior to Zimbabwe’s tour of Pakistan, but could not comment further at this stage. Campbell said he was unable to comment as the matter was pending either legal or internal disciplinary action.
With Utseya openly basing some of these claims in the letter on “rumour”, he would appear to be open to legal action, though the matter may ultimately be dealt with internally at ZC. It is understood that ZC is currently investigating the letter.
“Racism and Victimisation”
The letter copies all ZC board members and bears the headline “Racism and Victimisation”, and begins: “Through you Mr. Chairman I wish to share my frustrations as I believe I am a victim of racism and have come to a point where I feel I have been quiet for too long whilst a lot has been happening.” After more than 10,000 words, Utseya finally closes his case with a plea for the board to consider his concerns.
Utseya, who was in Zimbabwe’s World Cup squad but did not get a game, claims he considered leaving the World Cup prematurely out of frustration, and cites Campbell’s pre-tournament comments as a back story to support his contention that ZC’s managing director conspired against his potential selection. Last year, the ICC banned Utseya from bowling offspin, and in a guest column for the governing body in the lead-up to the World Cup, Campbell wrote: “I’m still a bit baffled by how Prosper Utseya will get on without being allowed to bowl his off-spinner, but no doubt he’ll find a way. He’ll certainly be the only bowler in the tournament without a ‘stock’ ball. He has been bowling medium-pacers and off-cutters recently so perhaps that is the way he will go.”
Utseya was banned from bowling after testing in September 2014. In December, his offbreak was found to be illegal but his other deliveries were deemed legal, and so he was cleared to bowl again so long as he did not utilise his stock ball.
His new method was field-tested for the first time on a trip to Uganda in December 2014 and he then captained Zimbabwe A against Canada at home in January. In four games he took five wickets at an average of 17.80, bowling his full 10 overs in every match, never conceding more than 24 runs, and also contributed useful runs down the order. In his letter, he uses this as evidence that he deserved to be picked at the World Cup, but does not elaborate on how Campbell was able to influence selection at the tournament.
To support his racial allegations, Utseya goes on to list cases where Campbell appointed white people for coaching and administration posts, during his stint as chairman of the cricket committee and chairman of selectors, including coaching roles to Heath Streak and Grant Flower. Utseya claims the decision to make Mangongo assistant coach was merely “a cover up to have a black man”. The employment of foreign white coaches at franchise level – Jason Gillespie, Allan Donald and Andrew Hall all coached Zimbabwean franchises during this period – is also cited as a ploy to “make sure that it is dominated by whites and thereby taking control of cricket”.
Utseya also alleges that the appointment of Elton Chigumbura as Zimbabwe captain after he stepped down in 2010 was a short-term set up for Campbell to achieve a long-term goal. “When I was removed from the captaincy with no genuine reason Elton Chigumbura was then appointed,” Utseya writes. “Their aim was simply to put a white captain in B Taylor simply because they believe a white coach cannot work with a black captain and the change from Utseya to B Taylor would not look good politically hence the Elton route. Elton was not given a chance to prove himself and was quickly dropped from the captaincy.”
Chigumbura captained Zimbabwe in 20 ODIs between May 2010 and the end of the 2011 World Cup, but the extra responsibility affected his form. After the 2011 World Cup, Chigumbura said that he planned to resign and focus on his own game, but later retracted that statement. In June 2011, ZC’s then managing director Ozias Bvute announced that Taylor would take over the captaincy.
Later in the letter, Utseya claims that Campbell has suggested he become a coach, is not giving him a chance to remodel his action and is trying to prevent him from gaining a national contract. “Bearing in mind I still have an opportunity at 30 years old to work on my off spin. If I can reinvent in 2 months and make it Man of the Series in my comeback series with my new bowling action I reckon within 4 months I will be brilliant and what more in a year’s time I will be an artist at work. ICC can take away my offspin but they cannot take away my brains and experience which must count for something.”
Utseya goes on to suggest that given Zimbabwe’s “unique” racial situation, the position of managing director should be split – and offers to fill the second post. “It is my humble wish that if Alistair Campbell can suggest that at 30 years old I can be involved in Franchise coaching and if the ZC Board also agrees with him in that I am not adding value as a player with my new bowling action I would like to go 2 steps further than his suggestion and put my hand up for consideration for the proposed split post as I have the credentials.”
Race and cricket in Zimbabwe
This is not the first instance of allegations of racism surfacing in the Zimbabwe cricket set-up. Cricket remained a predominantly white sport in Zimbabwe for two decades after majority rule in 1980, although after Henry Olonga became the country’s first black cricketer in 1995, other black players started to filter through.
For a time it seemed that transformation of the game might happen organically, but the troubled wider political and social context caught up with cricket. In March 2001, ZCU announced the formation of an Integration Task Force focused on the “rapid evolution” of the game, and the eradication of racial discrimination in cricket. Players had to fill out a racism survey and, in the eyes of the predominantly white players, the integration targets set out by the Task Force amounted to an unofficial quota system. This was one of the factors that led to the player rebellion in April 2004, followed by the exit of 15 white players from the national squad. In September that year, the ICC held a hearing into allegations of racism began in Harare. The hearing ended amid allegations that ZCU was trying to create a hostile environment and intimidate witnesses and in October, then ICC president Ehsan Mani said he was satisfied with the findings of the report which found no evidence of racism in Zimbabwe cricket.
In January 2013 issues of race came to the fore again when the Sports and Recreation Commission, headed by the then Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture David Coltart, issued a directive that any person tasked with convening the selection of a national side should have played international sport themselves. The directive was portrayed as being racially motivated by Givemore Makoni, the convenor of selectors and the man most directly affected by it.
Stephen Mangongo’s tenure as national coach was marked by general player ambivalence towards his coaching style, rather than any particular racial tension, but when Mangongo lost his position after Zimbabwe’s whitewashing by Bangladesh last December, he reportedly said: “I am inclined to comment that I don’t think that Zimbabwe cricket was ready for an indigenous black person. It’s about acceptance, it’s about being ready for that and the alarmists already rang a lot of bells because a black guy had taken the head coach’s mantle.” This was despite the fact that the people responsible for the termination of his position were also black, and is indicative, in a general sense, of the way in which matters of race and racism are drawn into areas of disagreement in Zimbabwean cricket.