London: South African President Thabo Mbeki said on Sunday a threatened World Cup boycott of Zimbabwe by England's cricketers was "distressing". England's players, who are due to open their tournament against Zimbabwe in Harare on February 13, have called on safety and moral grounds for the game to be moved to South Africa, where the bulk of the February 8 to March 23 event's 54 fixtures are taking place.
Their announcement followed an appeal from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of the severest critics of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's regime and the alleged human rights abuses it has carried out, to England to boycott the match. However, following a meeting with Blair at the Prime Minister's official country residence at Chequers, Berkshire, southern England, Mbeki told 'Sky News' on Sunday that calls for a boycott were inconsistent. "You (Britain) hosted the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
The Zimbabweans went there and no problem was raised about this issue," Mbeki said. "There had not been any decision, any proposals from anywhere about a sports boycott. "So the Zimbabwean athletes came and they performed in Manchester and there was no problem. "Or the Sydney Olympics. Zimbabwean athletes were there in Australia and the Australians did not raise any issue about this. Nobody did. "What I am saying is it is a bit distressing that now when a big tournament like this comes to us suddenly the sports boycott becomes an issue.
"We have kept out of this because this is an International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament and to the extent that they have said as a principle host we need to assist we have. "South Africans have been in Kenya, they have been in Zimbabwe to make sure that all the particular concerns are addressed and we are convinced they are addressed," he added. On Thursday the ICC repeated that in its view it was still safe for the six World Cup matches in famine-threatened Zimbabwe to go ahead.
It added that there was also no reason to abandon the two World Cup games in Kenya even though New Zealand has said it will not play its match in Nairobi, on February 24, because of safety fears. The ICC has stressed that matches can be moved as late as four days in advance. It also said countries can appeal to tournament organisers, who took formal responsibility for the World Cup on Sunday, for a change of venue.