Don't shake hands with Mugabe: England ministers

Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003, 17:06 [IST]
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London: Protesting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe regimes alleged human rights abuses, England's Ministers, among others, have asked their country's team not to shake hands with the African ruler if they insist on playing in the World Cup tie in Zimbabwe next month. Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Baroness Amos, the Junior Foreign Office Minister, will tell representatives of England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the sport's governing body, next Thursday to convey their request to the cricketers, to deny Mugabe a "propaganda coup".

Jowell and Baroness Amos are resigned to the cricketing authority rejecting demands by Prime Minister Tony Blair to boycott the match in Harare, according to a report in 'The Sunday Telegraph' on Sunday. Meanwhile, Peter Hain, the cabinet minister who rose to fame by campaigning against sporting links with South Africa, has urged International cricket authorities not to stage matches in Zimbabwe in protest against the country's human rights record. In an article in Sunday's 'Independent', a daily, Hain argued that ICC should move the six One-day matches to South Africa, one of the co-hosts of the tournament.

If they go ahead in Zimbabwe, the England team should unilaterally refuse to play there, he said. "As the Zimbabwean opposition is pleading, the ICC should act to transfer every game to be played in Zimbabwe to South Africa, which is a beacon of multi-racialism, tolerance and democracy, just as Zimbabwe is a beacon of the very opposite," he said. "If Mugabe gets his way and the event proceeds, England should not go. But if their international sister organisations will not stand up for morality against oppression, if other governments will not back our own government's stand, then it is still important for English cricket to show some moral backbone," Hain said.

"What about those Zimbabwean youngsters unable to play because they haven't been fed? What will the English team do if British sports journalists are blocked from covering not just the overs and the runs, but the context too? What will they do if ordinary Zimbabweans protest against the matches - as they well might - and are clubbed away mercilessly, may be to death? The temperature on the streets in Zimbabwe is rising. It could well erupt around the World Cup as people demand food and freedom." According to the 'Telegraph' report, one minister said, "It is up to the ECB. I think the tour will go ahead, but the team will be told not to meet Mugabe. There will be no handshakes with Mugabe."

The demand will cause consternation in the England camp. An official close to the team told the newspaper, "None of the players wants to shake hands with Mugabe, but it is ludicrous for the Government to try to impose some kind of ban." Avoiding an embarrassing meeting with Mugabe is likely to prove impossible for the players. He is the patron of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) and is expected to attend all the World Cup matches in his country. The English cricket official said, "If the Government makes such a request to snub Mugabe, then isn't he definitely going to exploit it and rush up to Nasser Hussain and try to shake his hand?"

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