Henry Olonga can discuss the Northern Ireland peace process, world poverty, the political situation in Zimbabwe. He can wax lyrical about music, poetry and art. Just about anything in fact. He can even talk about cricket.
Olonga will forever be known as the cricketer who, along with Zimbabwe team-mate Andy Flower, made a stand against the country’s controversial leader Robert Mugabe. The pair donned black armbands when playing for Zimbabwe at the 2003 World Cup in protest at Mugabe’s human rights abuses.
“I was certainly nervous when I walked out on to the pitch wearing the armband,” said Olonga, whose protest led to a treason charge — and potentially the death penalty — forcing him to retire from international cricket and temporarily go into hiding.
“It was a symbolic protest and I paid the price for it — I lost my career and I live in a foreign land, England, where I wasn’t raised.
“If I went back to Zimbabwe I might be fine — I might not. I just don’t know,” said Olonga.
“I am considering going back to Zimbabwe. I wouldn’t be going back to live right now, I would be going back to check things out.
“I could easily rule out in the short term going there to live, but in the long term, who knows?
“It’s something I wouldn’t have considered three or four years ago, but due to changes in Zimbabwe, now I might consider it.
“Zimbabwe has lessons to learn from the political situation in Ireland. There is the basic parallel of two sides opposing each other.
“Zimbabwe’s battle was very much swayed in favour of the government, whereas here the people doing the bombing may have had the balance of power because they had fear over people.
“Groups like the IRA caused more damage to people’s lives.
“There has got to be compromise in order to find peace,” said Olonga, in Belfast yesterday for the launch of the NI Hospice Coffee Morning initiative, performing a song and a reading from his autobiography ‘Blood, Sweat and Treason’.
And as you would expect from a man who stood up to Mugabe, he meets the big issues in sport head on. Take match-fixing in cricket for example and the case of disgraced former South Africa captain, the late Hansie Cronje, banned for life for his role in the scandal.
“Hansie Cronje’s fall from grace brought the game into disrepute, irrespective of what you think of Hansie. I liked the guy — I just think he took a wrong turn in life.
“Maybe he found redemption at the end of it all. I think he made his peace with his fellow man and with his God,” he added.
“But he still brought cricket into disrepute — and cricket is based on values like sportsmanship and respect. So once cricket becomes tarnished by match-fixing it makes you wonder what you are watching. Are players giving their best? You are being cheated and robbed if they’re not.”
But Olonga is quick to point out that he believes cricket is, overall, one of the most honest sports around and is really looking forward to the Ashes.
He said: “I would tend to go for England, but you count out the Aussies at your peril.”
England be warned.