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Zimbabwe Cricket Players End Black Armband Protest - 2003-02-19

Two Zimbabwean cricket players have obeyed an International Cricket Council order to abandon their black armband protest against the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. But they found another way to get their point across.

Only one of the controversial Zimbabwean players actually took to the field against India in Harare. Top-ranking batsman Andy Flower was playing. But the selectors chose to leave out quick bowler Henry Olonga. It was not clear whether that was a punishment for his political statement or simply a decision to shake up the bowling lineup in the key World Cup match.

In Zimbabwe's opening match against Namibia last week, Flower and Olonga wore black armbands as a symbolic gesture of mourning for what they called "the death of democracy" in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Cricket Union reported them to the International Cricket Council for bringing the game into disrepute, but the ICC chose to take no action against the players, provided they stopped wearing the armbands.

In the match against India, Flower and Olonga - in his role as 12th man - both wore black sweatbands on their heads. It appeared to be a compromise way to continue their protest without defying the ICC.

The black armbands were absent on the field, but a few did appear on spectators in the stands. From her seat, Bev Clark also waved a poster supporting Olonga and Flower. "What I am doing at the moment is I am supporting Henry Olonga and Andy Flower by wearing a black armband, by carrying this banner which commends their actions the other day," said Ms. Clark. "And I believe that perhaps by these small actions will lead to greater courage among Zimbabweans."

Ms. Clark sat with several friends, all wearing black armbands. An advertisement placed in a local independent newspaper urged spectators to wear black-and-white clothing as a different kind of quiet protest.

But most of the roughly 5,000 spectators were dressed normally, many in school uniforms or the Zimbabwe team's trademark red jerseys. A Zimbabwe supporter who gave his name only as Jules, wore a giant Zimbabwean flag draped over his head. Jules said someone handed out black armbands in his section of the stands, but most people, including him, "did not have the guts to wear them." "We did not take them," he said. "We want to still stay in this country, and so just have to take the chance of not taking it. Even though we support Zimbabwe all the way."

Meanwhile, there were hundreds of India supporters also present at the Harare match. Some came to Africa from India just to watch their team play in the World Cup, while others are Indian expatriates who live in neighboring African countries, including Zambia.

The Indian supporters were hoping for a comeback after their side collapsed against Australia on Saturday.