England team receives threats over playing in Zimbabwe

Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003, 20:46 [IST]
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London: The England team has received anonymous letters threatening violence if it plays in Zimbabwe during next month's World Cup, the BBC reported on Saturday. England is due to begin its World Cup campaign in the Zimbabwean capital Harare on February 13. The England team is currently in Melbourne where it was taking part on Saturday in the second One-day series final against Australia.

On Friday, England captain Nasser Hussain informed England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chairman David Morgan, who is also in Melbourne, that letters had been slipped under the doors of players' rooms in their previous hotel in Sydney. "Nasser advised me that players who were ready to go a week ago were less ready now," Morgan told the BBC. "They were receiving threats about the possibility of disturbances and riots in the lead up to our match."

On Friday, the International Cricket Council (ICC) confirmed that the six World Cup matches due to take place in famine-ravaged Zimbabwe were going ahead. Earlier this week ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed and World Cup tournament director Ali Bacher visited Zimbabwe to check on the country's security arrangements. Speed said the situation in Zimbabwe had "deteriorated" since the ICC's November inspection visit there. But, on Friday, the ICC's executive board, via teleconference, unanimously gave the green light for the Zimbabwe games to continue following assurances that players and officials safety would be guaranteed. However Morgan, who represented England in that meeting, said the ICC would be having a further meeting at 1000 GMT on Thursday where Zimbabwe's status as a World Cup host would once again be up for discussion.

"I did insist that when we resume we should have a further report," Morgan explained. "If that report is a negative one then I shall be making it very clear that we believe England ought not to be fulfilling that fixture," he added. "But on the basis of everything that I heard yesterday (Friday) there is no question of the players and the officials having to operate in an unsafe environment and therefore we will be fulfilling our commitments. "It will certainly go ahead unless there is some deterioration in safety and security." On Friday, Speed said that matches due to be played in Zimbabwe could be moved to South Africa, where the bulk of the February 8 - March 23 tournament's 54 fixtures are being staged, up to four or five days before they were due to take place.

England and Australia have come under intense political pressure from their respective governments to boycott their matches in Zimbabwe as a protest against the human rights abuses of President Robert Mugabe. But they, and the ICC, have resisted such calls, saying safety and security not politics were the key factors in determining whether the Zimbabwe matches would go ahead. Meanwhile Kenya, due to host two World Cup matches, will also have its safety status re-examined on Thursday amidst fears of further possible extremist attacks in the east African state.

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