Melbourne: Cricket's world governing body said on Sunday Australia and England would forfeit match points if they boycotted World Cup matches in Zimbabwe on political grounds. International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Malcolm Speed also criticised senior English official David Graveney for urging the national team not to play in Zimbabwe. British newspaper 'The News Of The World' quoted Graveney, the national chairman of selectors, as saying he would not seek assurances from players that they would play in Zimbabwe before the final Cup squad was named, due by December 31.
The English government also weighed in, with the BBC quoting government minister Clare Short saying it would be "shocking and deplorable" if the team went to Zimbabwe, given the political situation in the African country. The Australian government also voiced its opposition to Australia's cricketers playing in Zimbabwe, but would not force the team to forfeit its game there. The ICC has withstood political pressure and announced games scheduled in Zimbabwe would proceed despite international condemnation of President Robert Mugabe's regime.
The ICC decision was "regrettable" and concerning, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Sunday. Australia is scheduled to play Zimbabwe in the country's second-largest city, Bulawayo, on February 24. "We are not telling the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) what to do, it's a matter for them," Downer said. "But we are entitled to an opinion - and the government's opinion is that is it very regrettable that these international, high-profile cricket matches are going to go ahead in Zimbabwe."
Downer described Mugabe's administration as a "simply appalling regime" and said he hoped the ICC would revisit its decision. "We are certainly not going to intervene and stop the Australian cricket team from going," he said. But Speed and ICC chairman Malcolm Gray said the ICC Board had decided only safety and security concerns - not political ones - could warrant a World Cup match being moved. "If the ECB (English Cricket Board) said it wasn't going to play that game because it had been told by the government it was not to play that game, it would forfeit the points," Speed said during the fourth Ashes Test between Australia and England.
"If they were to say 'we won't play that game because we believe it is unsafe for players and officials to play that game', there is a process that has been put in place and is being finalised over the next couple of days. "They could obtain a ruling as to safety and security - if the ruling was in their favour, they would share the points with Zimbabwe." England is scheduled to play Zimbabwe in Harare on February 13. When Graveney's comments were brought up at Sunday's media conference, Speed curtly responded, "This is the same man who managed a rebel tour of South Africa." Speed said Graveney and Tim May were joint chief executives of FICA, the international players' association body, and May was part of an official delegation that approved Zimbabwe as a Cup venue on safety and security grounds.
Gray said, "Political matters are not within the domain of the ICC." Speed said there had been "a number of messages" from the Zimbabwe political opposition in favour of the World Cup. He said the delegation had met with the deputy mayor of Harare and the mayor of Bulawayo, who were members of the opposition party MDC. "The clear message that came from them was that they believed the World Cup was good for Zimbabwe and the MDC supported the matches being played in Harare and Bulawayo," Speed said. "As we understood it, they were telling us the policy of the MDC and it was quite clear ... I was satisfied with that. On the safety and security issue, they were quite clear about the message they were giving us."