Final decision on England visit to Zimbabwe tomorrow

Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2003, 2:10 [IST]
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London: England's cricket bosses will meet on Tuesday to make a final decision on Zimbabwe, having already agreed that no one will shake hands with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe during the World Cup.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is expected to confirm that the match against Zimbabwe will go ahead in Harare on February 13 as scheduled, unless the International Cricket Council changes the venue for security reasons. Developments over the weekend in Zimbabwe suggest the ICC is beginning to prepare to switch the match to an alternative venue in South Africa, possibly Port Elizabeth, by confirming the composition of a committee to monitor the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, 'The Times' daily reported on Monday.

The panel will comprise four of the highest-ranking figures in the governing body of the sport: Malcolm Gray, the president, Malcolm Speed, the chief executive, Percy Sonn, the president of the United Board for Cricket in South Africa, which is primarily responsible for hosting the event, and Ehsan Mani, Gray's successor-elect. According to the report, accounts of further food riots in urban parts of Zimbabwe, including Harare, have cast fresh doubts on the six World Cup games in Harare and Bulawayo going ahead as planned.

ECB chairman David Morgan, who is with the England team in Sydney, said, "If the stories are true, I think it is virtually certain that the ICC will want to have another look at the situation." A spokesman for the ICC, however, said it had "received no indication about the security situation getting worse in Zimbabwe". Asked why the ICC had appointed a panel to oversee the situation in the country, he said, "This is a normal and appropriate step for us to take, given the matches are coming up so soon." Tim Lamb, ECB chief executive, gave assurances on Sunday that no gestures of cordiality would be made by England's players or officials to the Zimbabwe regime during its visit.

Lamb said, "If there is any suggestion such a ceremony will be arranged (for meeting Mugabe), then we will decline to participate." Morgan has already intimated that the management board will vote in favour of travelling, mindful of significant financial loss to the ECB. Forfeiture of World Cup points could also increase the chance of elimination. Though the British Government has been opposed to England's intention to honour the fixture, there is no possibility of public compensation, and the final decision has been left to the ECB.

Lamb said, "We believe it is perverse that cricket is expected to make what amounts to no more than a symbolic gesture when there have been no international sporting sanctions applied against Zimbabwe, and they haven't been expelled from the Commonwealth. "We don't believe that cancelling one cricket match will help to put food into people's stomachs and fuel into people's cars."

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