For fear of bankruptcy, England will tour Zimbabwe

Published: Sunday, April 11, 2004, 16:15 [IST]
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London:England will go ahead with their controversial tour of Zimbabwe later this year, according to their senior administrator, amidst growing fears that cancellation would prove financially ruinous.

England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) officials had previously hinted they would boycott the trip in protest at the policies of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.

But ECB chairman David Morgan, announcing their latest U-turn on Zimbabwe, told British broadsheet the Independent on Sunday: "The only way that I can see us not fulfilling the tour is either because of government directive or because of safety and security.

"And let me emphasise we don't see them as being issues at the moment," he added.

Under new sanctions agreed at an International Cricket Council (ICC) board meeting in Auckland earlier last month, England risk a two million dollar fine if they fail to tour Zimbabwe as scheduled in October.

They could also lose their lucrative status as hosts of September's ICC Champions Trophy One-day tournament.

And, worst of all, they could even be suspended from international cricket. That would prove disastrous for English cricket as a whole as international matches provide some 85 percent of the ECB's annual turnover of 55 million pounds (101 million dollars).

"I have little doubt that if without acceptable non-compliance we decided not to go, the members of the ICC would find it necessary to ensure that we paid an appropriate financial penalty," Morgan said.

His comments came just when the Zimbabwe team itself appeared to be heading towards collapse.

As many as 14 senior players are considering quitting international cricket following the decision by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) to strip Heath Streak of the captaincy.

If the players carried out their threat it would leave Zimbabwe, already one of world cricket's weakest Test sides, partly because of a small professional playing base, even less able to compete at the highest level.

The ECB's management board are due to discuss the tour at an April 20 meeting at their Lord's headquarters where three ZCU officials, including chairman Peter Chingoka, have also been invited.

The British government has repeatedly urged the ECB to scrap the tour in protest at Mugabe, who has been accused of numerous human rights abuses and has presided over the famine-ravaged African state's economic collapse.

But it has stopped short of ordering the ECB to cancel the trip.

However, the ECB appeared to be preparing the ground for a withdrawal in January when a paper written by senior official Des Wilson argued for the first time that moral reasons could form the basis of a refusal to tour.

England agreed in March last year to tour Zimbabwe in return for Zimbabwe touring England in 2003, having controversially withdrawn from a World Cup match in Harare on security grounds a month earlier.

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