International Cricket Council (ICC) president Ehsan Mani said after a two-day Board meeting of the sport's world governing body that any team failing to fulfil its touring obligations would be severely punished.
"Touring teams are expected to fulfil their touring obligations and failure to do so would result in a penalty of a minimum two million dollars and possible suspension from the International Cricket Council," Mani told reporters on Wednesday, insisting the new regulation was not "England specific".
England have delayed confirming their trip to Zimbabwe in October amid strong British Government pressure to scrap the tour in protest at the policies of the country's leader, President Robert Mugabe.
Crucially, however, the British Government has stopped short of formally ordering the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) not to send a team -- one of only two ways that a body can avoid punishment by the ICC for not touring.
Under ICC rules, barring a Government ban, the only other way for the ECB to withdraw without paying compensation is on security grounds.
ECB chairman David Morgan hinted however that the English cricket body was now studying legal advice that separate British Government statements viewed together could represent a formal directive not to tour Zimbabwe.
He said they believed three statements, including a letter from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, amounted to force majeure or an event beyond their control, and if so they could not tour and would escape the new penalty.
"That clearly needs to be tested," Morgan told reporters. "Originally I had been led to believe that the Foreign Secretary's letter did not constitute a force majeure situation. Overnight I have had information to suggest that it might."
But Zimbabwe Cricket Union chairman Peter Chingoka said the ICC decision meant "there is now an obligation on members to fulfill their part of the deal and tour and they have to stick by those regulations."
Morgan said it had been made clear during the ICC meeting that Board members wished "we should put cricket first and make that tour if at all possible."
Asked if he expected England to tour he replied, "That's a difficult question to answer. We have not taken any decision not to tour Zimbabwe and we are very conscious of the fact that we have a commitment to go to Zimbabwe."
Morgan said he regretted the situation greatly and said he would prefer to find a situation where England could tour. "ECB would prefer a clear instruction (from the Government) rather than one that is less clear but our number one priority is to fulfill commitments and play cricket.
"The only thing that will prevent us touring Zimbabwe will be a force majeure situation or for safety and security issues ... it is not ECB's intention to take a moral stance or political stance on the situation (in) Zimbabwe."
Mani meanwhile said international cricket did not want to be drawn into making political judgements.
"The ICC recognises the rights of Government to use sports as part of its foreign policy but the decision of the politicians should not drive ICC policy," he said. "We are concerned with decisions of cricket."
They recognised Government rights to use sporting sanctions as part of foreign policy, and pointed to the recent freeze on cricket ties between India and Pakistan.
"If Governments take this action their decisions will be accepted by the ICC and their will be no impact on the individual Boards ... What ICC is looking for is very clear directions from Governments."
ICC members to discuss England tour