London: Kenya and Zimbabwe's status as World Cup hosts could still be called into question despite Thursday's International Cricket Council (ICC) ruling that it was safe for matches there to go ahead as scheduled. On Thursday the ICC's executive board voted 10 to 2 in favour of going ahead with the two World Cup matches in Kenya after New Zealand, which wants to pull out of its February 21 match in Nairobi because of security fears, pressed the issue. In the light of that majority it was not surprising that there was no vote on Zimbabwe, even though England's players want their tournament opener in Harare on February 13 moved to main host South Africa. England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chairman David Morgan, knowing that votes from seven out of the 10 Test nations are required to change ICC policy at board level, probably decided to keep his powder dry for another issue.
Both India and Pakistan have repeatedly said they are happy to play in famine- threatened Zimbabwe and the combined Asian and African votes were an insurmountable hurdle for advocates of withdrawal to clear. But on Sunday, responsibility for the tournament passes from the ICC's executive board to the six-man World Cup event technical committee, which could prove more sympathetic to New Zealand and England concerns. And a subsequent appeal against the committee's decision could be made to one of three independent commissioners, Justice Albie Sachs of South Africa, Justice Richard Kwach of Kenya and Justice Ahmed Ebrahim of Zimbabwe, a former ICC match referee, sitting alone. The appeal procedure is equally open to host as well as visiting teams. Zimbabwe is due to host six matches in the tournament; Kenya, two. ICC's Australian chief executive Malcolm Speed said the committee's power was designed to rectify problems encountered at the 1996 World Cup.
"When the World Cup was played in Asia in 1996, two countries, West Indies and Australia pulled out of matches (in Sri Lanka) on the grounds of safety," Speed said at a London press conference on Thursday. "They lost the points from those matches, there was no process in place for those countries or the host country to receive a ruling on safety," Speed explained. "We've tried to address that with the technical committee and the three independent appeals commissioners." Speed said that the confines of the 54 match February 8 to March 23 tournament meant that appeals on venues would eventually have to end for logistical reasons, even though he has said that fixtures could be moved as late as four days before the schedule date. Teams could then, on safety and security grounds, still appeal for a share of the points if they did not want to play their match. Speed warned that countries would leave themselves open to compensation claims in the event of a no-show. However, Speed said the ICC's seven-year, $ 550 million commercial rights agreement signed two years ago with the Rupert Murdoch-owned Global Cricket Corporation (GCC) would not be jeopardised if matches were moved just so long as they were played somewhere.
"In relation to GCC if we were to play matches elsewhere, so long as they were able to be broadcast to international standards, we would not be in breach of contract, although we might have to pay some relocation costs," Speed, a lawyer, said. On the technical committee are Speed, World Cup tournament director Ali Bacher, former West Indies fast bowler, turned television commentator, Michael Holding and India batting great Sunil Gavaskar, now the chairman of the ICC's playing committee. Also involved are Campbell Jamieson, the Australian head of the ICC's commercial arm and Brian Basson, the United Cricket Board of South Africa's (UCBSA) director of cricket operations. The presence of only one Asian representative, Gavaskar, on the committee, may encourage England and New Zealand hopes of switching matches. But an ECB spokesman reacted cautiously to suggestions they would make an immediate appeal, saying only: "We continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis."