Sydney: Australian Prime Minister John Howard said on Sunday his government would consider contributing to the cost of a boycott of World Cup matches scheduled to be played in Zimbabwe.
Howard said playing in Zimbabwe would strengthen the "undemocratic" regime of President Robert Mugabe. "I'm aware of some of the financial implications involved and speaking from the Australian government's point of view, that's something that we'd be obviously be willing to talk about," Howard told ABC radio during the fifth Ashes Test between Australia and England. "If there were difficulties in relation to that ... we don't want to see any of the cricketers' associations affected financially."
Howard said discussions of a boycott were ongoing but only the United Kingdom and New Zealand had so far supported the proposal. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has ruled there is no reason why the six World Cup games scheduled for Zimbabwe should not proceed and warned boycotting countries would forfeit points and could be liable for lost revenue. The British government has already ruled out offering compensation to encourage a boycott. Howard repeated his previous insistence that any boycott should be agreed to by all affected nations, saying it would be unfair for the Australian team to act unilaterally.
He said it was difficult to isolate sport from politics and noted playing World Cup matches in Zimbabwe would give prestige to the Mugabe government. "If it goes ahead as planned it will, on balance, strengthen his position," he said. Meanwhile, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) president Tim Rice has confirmed plans to display the historic Ashes urn in Australia. Australians have long complained that despite years of Ashes dominance the 10-centimetre (four-inch) urn dating back to 1882 is permanently housed at the Lord's cricket ground in London.
The MCC said in November the urn was too fragile for the trip to Australia but Rice said restoration work would make the prized trophy fit for travel. "I can confidently say that as soon as the trophy is ready to rock, we'll send it out, bring it out and it will go on show in important cricket centres, which I would imagine means in the first instance Melbourne and Sydney," he told ABC radio.