London: English cricket authorities on Tuesday rejected British Prime Minister Tony Blair's call to boycott Zimbabwe during next month's World Cup. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) decided to ignore pleas from the British government and go ahead with its World Cup opener on February 13 in Harare. ECB chief executive Tim Lamb said the decision was unanimous but he insisted the players would not be allowed to take part in a ceremony before the game in which they could have to shake hands with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
"We are not, of course, immune to, or unaware of, what is happening in the wider world," Lamb told a press conference at Lord's cricket ground in London. "But we do not believe that it is our role to make subjective moral judgments about the various regimes in the different cricket-playing nations. "These are matters for elected governments to consider and take a decisive and early lead," Lamb insisted. He added that not playing in Zimbabwe would be a "purely symbolic gesture" which would "not put food in one more stomach or fuel in one more car" in the famine- ravaged country.
The press conference was delayed for 90 minutes by protesters brandishing placards who forced their way inside when security guards opened steel gates to let media enter. But Lamb said that after discussions with the players' representative, no member of England's 15-man World Cup squad had refused to play in Zimbabwe. Australia, India, Pakistan, Nambia and Holland have all said they will go ahead with their matches in the southern African country, and Lamb said an England boycott would be both meaningless and risk provoking a split in world cricket.
Government efforts to make English cricket pay a "unique and unilateral sacrifice" would "permanently damage the fabric of our national summer sport," said Lamb. "And we are being asked to make this gesture with only four weeks to go before the World Cup begins, despite the fact that it was known this particular fixture would be played in Harare as far back as October 2001," Lamb added. However, Lamb admitted it would be helpful if there could be a "re-visitation" of Zimbabwe's safety and security status by the ICC. Mike Soper, ECB deputy chairman who took charge of Tuesday's meeting because chairman David Morgan is with the England team in Australia, warned that a boycott would have damaging long-term consequences.
"We would be left with years and years of depravation for English cricket," Soper said. A spokesman for the Britain's Department for Culture, Media and Sport said, "We won't deny that this news is very disappointing. "Of course this was a tough call for the ECB to make, but we still believe the government's position was the right one. "However, as we've said all along this was the ECB's decision. We are also glad that the ECB has made it clear that England's players will do nothing to take part in Mugabe's propaganda. "Of course we will be advising them on this, as well as on security and safety issues."