London: Protesters invaded the Lord's ground in London on Tuesday as English cricket authorities met to decide whether to reject British premier Tony Blair's call to boycott Zimbabwe during next month's World Cup.
The England and Wales Cricket Board was expected to confirm whether it would play in Harare on February 13. Protesters forced their way inside when security guards opened steel gates to let media enter the ground for a news conference. The protesters were led by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who forced his way into the ground in a struggle with security staff. A number of demonstrators then dashed into the ground in the direction of the ECB Board offices.
Tatchell claimed a torture and detention centre was not far from the cricket ground where England was due to play. "It is where people are being tortured and raped by the Mugabe regime. That is not cricket and that's why the England team should not go," he said. The demonstrators were from organisations such as the Zimbabwe Association, which campaigns for Zimbabwe asylum seekers in Britain, and the Save Zimbabwe campaign, which supports democracy and human rights in the Southern African country.
Chanting "No to Cricket, No to Zimbabwe," the group said they had been assaulted by security staff on their way in. "We have come here entirely peacefully," said Tatchell, who alleged that he had been hit in the face by a member of the security staff. Protesters carrying banners reading "Berlin 1936, Harare 2003" flanked Tatchell as he spoke. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was in power when the German capital hosted the 1936 Olympic games. Six World Cup cricket matches are scheduled to take place in Zimbabwe, although the bulk of the 54 fixtures are set for South Africa where the event begins on February 8.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has said that it would only cancel the Zimbabwe matches for safety and security reasons, and not on political grounds. And ECB chief executive Tim Lamb said last week English cricket could face legal action from the ICC and its sponsors if they boycotted the game. Lamb said legal action could have a huge impact on the finances of the domestic game and was not prepared to see cricket being used as a "token gesture" when hundreds of British companies were allowed to trade with Zimbabwe.