London: The International Cricket Council (ICC) has said it has no plans to invite Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who is also patron of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, to any of the six World Cup matches scheduled in that country but would not stand in his way if he chose to attend. Defending its decision to allow Zimbabwe to host World Cup matches in February- March, ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed said it was taken on sporting grounds alone.
"Wherever we play there are politicians who come to the cricket matches and take a political advantage out of their country hosting the events," Speed said on BBC's Radio 5 Live channel. "The ICC is a cricket organisation and we make decisions based on cricket issues. We are not a political organisation. We looked at the cricket issues, particularly safety and security of players and officials, and ultimately we are satisfied there is no good reason to transfer these matches away from Harare and Bulawayo," Speed said.
"There have been instances in the past where there have been sanctions or sporting boycotts imposed by governments or groups of politicians, but there have been no such sanctions here," Speed said. The game's world governing body has been attacked by David Gower, the former England captain, and human rights activists critical of Mugabe's regime, among others, for taking next year's tournament to a country suffering from political problems and famine. Gower, now a commentator for Sky Sports, has urged England and Australia to refuse to play their fixtures in Zimbabwe.
"I don't think it is right that England should be playing a match in Harare on February 13, 2003 or on any other day while the Mugabe regime remains in power," he said. "Nor do I think the Australians, as the other main Commonwealth nation involved in the same group, should honour their fixture in Bulawayo 11 days later." However, Speed argued that if the ICC was forced to apply political judgements to all cricket-playing nations, similar doubts would be raised about other countries.
"There are a lot of people in Zimbabwe who will take great pleasure from watching these matches and in times of difficulty we think it has a positive benefit," he said. 'Zimactivism', a human rights group, has threatened to sabotage games by cutting holes in the covers at World Cup venues and is advocating digging up the pitches to plant maize.