London: World Cup matches in Kenya and Zimbabwe will go ahead as scheduled, the sport's governing body ruled on Thursday, rejecting pleas for them to be moved on security grounds.
Malcolm Speed, chief executive of the International Cricket Council (ICC), announced the decision at a press conference in London after a two-hour teleconference of the organisation's executive board. England's players have called on the ICC to switch their match in Harare to South Africa, where the bulk of the matches in the February 8-March 23 tournament are due to be played. Australia has also expressed reservations about playing in Zimbabwe while New Zealand has questioned Kenya's ability to ensure adequate security for games there in the aftermath of last year's terrorist attack in Mombassa, which left 28 people dead.
Speed said New Zealand had tabled a formal proposal for their match to be moved out of Kenya but the ICC board had decided there was "not sufficient grounds" for such a move. England, Australia and the Netherlands all relayed the concerns of their players about playing in Zimbabwe but did not actually ask for their matches to be moved. Speed said the ICC had consulted diplomats, officials and police experts and commissioned a special report from American security consultants Kroll on the security situation in Kenya and Zimbabwe. In the light of these, it had reached an "informed decision" that teams must honour their commitments to playing the matches in Zimbabwe and Kenya.
India, Pakistan and Namibia have all indicated that they are happy to play their matches in Zimbabwe. The Netherlands had, until on Thursday, not given any indication of their reservations. Speed said the ICC recognised that the security of players and fans was of paramount importance and that there were heightened concerns in the wake of September 11. But he reiterated that the ICC could not take a decision on political grounds. The England players' appeal for their match to be switched on security grounds followed intense pressure from the British government for them to pull out of their match in Harare as a protest against the regime of President Robert Mugabe.
Speed said New Zealand's proposal for its match to be switched out of Kenya had been opposed by Kenya. "In light of the substantial reports it received (on the security situation) ICC decided there not sufficient reasons to move the game," Speed said. In Nairobi meanwhile the ICC decision to keep Zimbabwe and Kenya in the frame was celebrated with enthusiasm. "Thanks be to God that the decision has gone our way, " said Kenya Cricket Association (KCA) chairman Jimmy Rayani after hearing of the ICC executive board's decision from London. "The whole matter had been blown out of proportion. We are very glad and now look forward for the preparations. There is a lot for the Kenyan public to look forward to." AFP