London: British Premier Tony Blair said on Wednesday he was unable to stop England playing in Zimbabwe in the World Cup next month. But Blair still urged England's cricketers to boycott the match on February 13 in the Zimbabwe capital Harare. "We've expressed our view very clearly that (the players) should not go," he said at Prime Minister's question time in the British Parliament. "But as with the decision over the 1980 Olympics it is not within our power or ability to tell other people not to go.
We've made it quite clear to the cricket authorities that we believe that they should not go. I hope they take account of our advice. Whether they do so or not is a matter for them." But the International Cricket Council (ICC) said on Monday there were no plans to move World Cup matches from Zimbabwe despite the weekend murder of an Australian tourist in the strife-torn country. England captain Nasser Hussain has asked the government to make the decision over of a boycott on behalf of English cricket.
There have been mounting calls for a boycott of all World Cup fixtures in Zimbabwe because of President Robert Mugabe's treatment of white farmers and opposition politicians, while millions face starvation in a humanitarian crisis. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has openly opposed the Australian team playing matches in Zimbabwe, where political violence has been rife since Mugabe began forcibly evicting white farmers as part of a "land reform" campaign. Howard said last week he would consider helping to cover the cost of boycotting the matches, although the British government has indicated it would not be willing to indemnify the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) against any losses.
The whole Zimbabwe issue is threatening to create a racial split within world cricket. India and Pakistan, the other two major cricket nations due to play World Cup matches in Zimbabwe, say they have no problems with the game going ahead. The ICC has always maintained that the six out of 54 World Cup matches in total (the bulk are scheduled for South Africa) due to take place in Zimbabwe would proceed as long as the safety and security of the players was assured. In November, the ICC sent an inspection team to Zimbabwe to assess its safety and security status.
Following the publication of the team's report last month, the ICC decided to press ahead with the Zimbabwe matches although it reserved the right to pull out if the situation "deteriorated." But as it stands at the moment, teams will be docked World Cup points if they fail to play in Zimbabwe. They could also carry the cost of claims brought against the ICC by sponsors and broadcasters demanding their money back if the games are called off for political reasons.
The ICC has repeatedly said it is not its job to pass judgement on the Mugabe regime. The ECB is meeting the government on Thursday to discuss the matter further. An ECB spokeswoman said on Monday that they would not be making any further comment on Zimbabwe until after that meeting.