Blair~~s comments on Zimbabwe tour irks Mani

Published: Thursday, May 6, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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London:International Cricket Council (ICC) president Ehsan Mani launched a bitter attack on British Prime Minister Tony Blair accusing him of inaction and inconsistency on the thorny subject of England's tour of Zimbabwe.

"It is disappointing but unsurprising that a politician should attempt to shift the blame in this way," said Mani.

"Mr Blair is seeking to divert attention away from his own inaction in dealing with Zimbabwe by attempting to exert inappropriate pressure on an international sporting body to make a political decision.

"At no stage has he or any of his people sought to get the facts on this matter from the ICC."

Earlier on Wednesday, Blair had said that he didn't think England should tour Zimbabwe, but added that the decision rests exclusively on the shoulders of international cricket chiefs.

"We would prefer them not to go," said Blair during his weekly question session in the House of Commons.

But he added: "There is a difference between doing that and ordering them not to go which I think would step over the proper line."

He added that his foreign secretary Jack Straw would be meeting the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Thursday to discuss the dilemma.

He added: "I think many people believe, I think rightly, that the problem actually resides with the ICC."

However, Mani was incensed by Blair's stance.

"It is difficult to accept the proposition that the ICC should be making a special case for England when not even the England and Wales Cricket Board has attempted to argue that it be exempted from its promise to tour Zimbabwe unless it is unsafe to do so," said the ICC chief.

"Unfortunately, the one consistent aspect of Mr Blair's approach to Zimbabwe has been its inconsistency.

"His Government maintains diplomatic links with Zimbabwe, allows British companies to invest heavily in and trade openly with Zimbabwe, and welcomes athletes representing Zimbabwe to the UK.

"Given that this issue has been on his radar for more than 18 months it appears that his intransigence on Zimbabwe is now linked in some way to his overwhelming desire to secure the Olympics for London."

If England pull out of the tour, scheduled for later this year, the ECB could face a two million pound fine and a one-year suspension if they cancel the tour without the British Government specifically telling them not to travel.

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