Zim tour off, security prime concern: ACB

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2002, 15:07 [IST]
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Melbourne: Australian cricket chiefs abandoned next month's tour of Zimbabwe due to growing safety concerns on Wednesday, but denied they had bowed to political pressure. The current world Test and One-day champions had been due to play a two-Test tour in the southern African country from April 11. But the Australian Cricket Board pulled the plug following Robert Mugabe's controversial re-election and Canberra's insistence that Prime Minister John Howard's role in having Zimbabwe suspended from the Commonwealth could mean Australians would be at risk in the Southern African country. Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer also said the tour would send the wrong signals to Mugabe. But, ACB chairman Bob Merriman denied the Board had bowed to pressure. Merriman said the decision to withdraw was made overnight after the government refused to downgrade its warning to Australians not to travel to the strife-torn country. "The security of our people is our first priority and it is now clear that travelling to Zimbabwe would compromise their safety," Merriman told reporters. "This is a decision that the ACB has deliberated on deeply and it is recognised that it will impact most on the cricket community within Zimbabwe," Merriman added. "This is something that is deeply regretted. Nevertheless the safety of the players and team management must take precedence and I hope there are other initiatives that the ACB and the Zimbabwe Cricket Union can adopt that will provide much needed support to the game in Zimbabwe." Merriman said a proposal for playing the matches in South Africa had been ruled out by Zimbabwe. ACB chief executive James Sutherland said the board was aiming at rescheduling the matches with Zimbabwe to 2004. Under new International Cricket Council scheduling, Australia must play Zimbabwe in the next few years. Sutherland denied reports the players had been considering a boycott, but said Wednesday's decision would come as no surprise to them. International Cricket Council president Malcolm Gray said Australia would not be penalised for the decision. "The game has already lost recent series in Pakistan and this latest disruption is regrettable from a cricketing perspective," Gray said in a statement. "Having said that, the safety and security of teams, officials and spectators must always remain the priority in judging whether a series or match should go ahead." Australia's next Test series is against Pakistan in Pakistan in September. Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) officials earlier this week had urged the Australians to avoid applying what they described as sporting sanctions. "There really is no threat whatsoever to the Australian cricketers," ZCU security chief Dan Stannard said on Monday. "It would be an uplifting experience to have them here. If they don't come some people might see it as a something of a sanctioned sports position." Stannard said reports of security concerns had been exaggerated and denied suggestions of an anti-Australian feeling in Zimbabwe. "There is no anti-Australian feeling," he said. "All the blacks I've spoken to said you cannot lump politics and sport - quite right." South Africa had been touted as a neutral venue for the matches but that idea was not followed up. Despite being expelled from the Commonwealth, Zimbabwe is still free to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, in July.

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