England in no-win position over Zimbabwe: Tim Lamb

Published: Friday, January 10, 2003, 20:10 [IST]
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London: England's senior cricket administrator said on Thursday the British government had left the team in a "no-win" position over its calls for a boycott of its World Cup match in Zimbabwe. England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tim Lamb, in a statement issued after a meeting with sports secretary Tessa Jowell, said he was "disappointed" by the government's stance.

He also indicated that its failure to offer compensation if England pulled out of its World Cup match against Zimbabwe in Harare on February 13 meant the match was likely to go ahead. British premier Tony Blair has called on England to boycott its match. But he has also said that the final decision rested with the ECB. However, Lamb rejected government assertions that the ECB had longstanding knowledge of its policy, saying it was only "late in the day" that the position had been made clear to the board. Lamb added that the ECB was well aware of what he called the "immoral and repressive nature" of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's regime, which has sparked worldwide calls for a boycott.

Lamb who agreed that the ultimate decision about England's participation in Zimbabwe "technically rested" with the ECB, not the government, said of the meeting, "We had a firm and open exchange of views, but are disappointed with the outcome. "If we sacrifice this match it will, in effect, be at the government's request - and for the wider national interest. "We don't understand therefore the government's refusal to compensate us out of the national purse for any consequential losses we incur. These losses could damage cricket enormously.

"Surely, it is only fair that the government should at least discuss this with us - as the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has said he is willing to do with the Australian Cricket Board (ACB). "We are also disappointed that government ministers waited until very late in the day to tell us that they did not want us to play this match against Zimbabwe. "This has now left us in a total 'no-win' situation. If they had expressed their views earlier, perhaps this situation could have been avoided." However, Lamb was contradicted by government minister Robin Cook who told the House of Commons on Thursday, "As far back as early July the England and Wales Cricket Board was advised the government would not wish the team to go to Zimbabwe."

Meanwhile Lamb said the ECB sympathised with critics of Mugabe's policies. "We are only too well aware of the immoral and repressive nature of the Mugabe regime and, should we fulfil this fixture, have given the government our assurance that we are determined not to give the Mugabe regime any opportunity to make propaganda out of the England team playing against Zimbabwe. "That is the last thing we want to happen."

ECB officials are also worried that a boycott of its match in Harare will spark a Mugabe-inspired retaliatory cancellation of Zimbabwe's two-Test tour of England starting in May. That, according to some estimates, could cost the ECB as much as 10 million Pounds ($ 16 million). The International Cricket Council (ICC) has said that only"deterioration" in the safety and security situation in Zimbabwe would force it to cancel the six World Cup matches scheduled to take place there. Otherwise any team refusing to play in Zimbabwe will be docked World Cup points The bulk of matches in the February 8 to March 23 tournament are taking place in South Africa.

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