'It's not ICC's role to make political decisions'

Published: Tuesday, December 31, 2002, 1:51 [IST]
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Melbourne: The International Cricket Council (ICC) said on Monday the decision to go ahead with 2003 World Cup games in Zimbabwe would not legitimise the government of Robert Mugabe. Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Monday urged the ICC to reconsider staging games in Zimbabwe during the February-March World Cup, which is also being hosted by South Africa and Kenya.

British International Development Minister Clare Short has called on England to pull out of its opening World Cup match in Harare on February 13, saying it would be "shocking and deplorable" to play there. ICC president Malcolm Gray said Howard was wrong to say that playing in Zimbabwe legitimised the Mugabe regime. "I am aware of that and he is wrong in saying we are legitimising it," Gray told a press conference at the Melbourne Cricket Ground after Australia's victory over England in the fourth Ashes Test.

"It is up to him to make up his mind together with his government and convey whatever his decisions are to the Australian Cricket Board." Gray, a former Australian Cricket Board chairman, said it was not the ICC's duty to take into account political issues when deciding on match venues. The ICC sent a security and safety delegation to Zimbabwe last month and that group recommended the six scheduled Cup games could proceed. "The ICC and, in general, sports administrators are not equipped or experienced or competent, nor have the mandate, to make political decisions," Gray said. "That is the role and responsibility of governments.

Often over the years, governments and politicians have tried to push that responsibility on to sports administrators - the ICC will not accept that." The ICC said on Sunday, under tournament rules, a team would forfeit its match points to Zimbabwe if it did not play a Cup game in that country because of political considerations. Australia plays Zimbabwe on February 24 in Bulawayo. Howard said the ICC needed to recognise there were broader issues surrounding playing in Zimbabwe, describing Mugabe's government as "completely illegitimate, undemocratic, stolen".

"What I am saying to the International Cricket Council is please look at this again," he told Nine Network television. But Howard said his government would not attempt to stop Australia playing matches in Zimbabwe because any cricketing boycott of the southern African nation "should be a case of all in or all out". The ACB said in a statement on Monday that Australia would carry out its contractual obligations to play in Zimbabwe.

"Our long-standing position as cricket administrators has been that we will go to Zimbabwe unless there are safety or security risks," ACB chief executive James Sutherland said. "I was part of the recent ICC delegation which inspected safety and security issues in Zimbabwe and the ACB supports the subsequent ICC report finding that safety and security arrangements are appropriate."

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