British politicians warn against Zimbabwe WC matches

Published: Tuesday, December 17, 2002, 1:14 [IST]
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London: Political opposition to England's participation in World Cup cricket matches in Zimbabwe is hardening according to a survey reported by the BBC here on Monday. It polled 100 MPs from Britain's governing Labour party and found that 66 per cent of those surveyed said England should refuse to play in Zimbabwe, which is co- hosting February's tournament with South Africa and Kenya. Only 18 MPs said England should go ahead with its matches in Zimbabwe, the rest abstaining. Last week Britain's Foreign Office expressed its concern about what it said was the growing humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe caused by the policies of President Robert Mugabe.

And Michael Ancram, foreign affairs spokesman for Britain's Opposition Conservative party urged world cricket's governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC) to strip Zimbabwe of its host status. However, Britain's Sports Minister Richard Caborn has always maintained that the ICC, not politicians, should make the final decision on Zimbabwe. ICC sent a delegation to Zimbabwe last month, including its chief executive Malcolm Speed and the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Tim Lamb, to inspect security arrangements. The delegation's report was circulated to the ICC's 15-strong executive board on Friday and its decision on Zimbabwe is due to be made public later this week.

"The report from the security council delegation that went to Zimbabwe has been circulated to all the member countries and we are collecting their comments," said an ICC spokesman, who declined to comment on the BBC findings. "At the moment, until a decision is made, it would be inappropriate to comment on whether a team should be travelling to Zimbabwe." Harold Best, one of the Labour MPs surveyed said, "I thought there should be opposition to such a tour taking place in Zimbabwe. "Cricket, the game of all games, calls for fair play and openness, and they are not playing cricket in Zimbabwe, they are playing a kind of politics which does not make any sense." However former England opening batsman Chris Broad, who went on a rebel tour to South Africa during the apartheid era, said cricketers should not be forced to take a stand when British companies continued to trade with Zimbabwe. "It is not right what is going on there but why should England's cricketers be singled out when there is so much other business going on in Zimbabwe," Broad said.

"If back-bench MPs feel so strongly about it they should have a word with their colleagues who make the decisions and say 'We really feel it shouldn't happen,' and not only pull out England's cricketers but British Airways and all other businesses who have dealings with Zimbabwe. "It is incredibly unfair to single out cricketers just because they occupy the back pages." Pakistan played two Tests and five One-day games in Zimbawbe last month. India, Kenya, Namibia and Pakistan have shown no hesitation at playing in Zimbabwe, but Australia and England, the other visiting nations scheduled to play World Cup games in Zimbabwe, have voiced concern. Both the Australian and British governments have been severely critical of Mugabe's policies. Zimbabwe has come under international scrutiny over the forcible eviction of white farmers, who owned more than 30 per cent of the country's most fertile land before the policy to move them was launched in 2000 with Mugabe's blessing.

AFP Copyright AFP 2001

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