Don~~t~~ politicise tour, England warns

Published: Friday, November 26, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Johannesburg:England cricket chiefs warned Zimbabwe that any attempt to make political capital out of their controversial tour will have serious consequences.

The tour of Zimbabwe was finally given the go-ahead after the authorities in Harare lifted a media ban on 13 British journalists but not in time to save Friday's opening one-day match in the Zimbabwe capital.

However, England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) director of cricket operations John Carr warned the regime of Robert Mugabe that they will not tolerate any political interference during the five match, ten-day visit.

"Any politicisation of the tour can lead to firm and decisive action being taken," said Carr at a news conference here on Thursday.

"We received assurances on our pre-tour visit that there is no intention to politicise the tour."

Earlier, in a statement issued at the England squad's base here, an ECB spokesman confirmed the team would fly out to Harare on Friday and that the opening match would be rescheduled.

England spokesman Andrew Walpole told Sky News: "The team is booked on a plane from Johannesburg to Harare which leaves at 1030am tomorrow (0830 GMT Friday). The first one-day international between Zimbabwe and England will not take place now tomorrow."

"I can say that the ECB is committed to playing a five-match series against Zimbabwe and further discussions will now need to take place about the precise scheduling of those games."

The second one-day match is currently scheduled for Sunday, also in Harare.

ECB chairman David Morgan said: "The whole incident (banning the journalists) has been regrettable but it has now been resolved."

The players' representative Richard Bevan said that English cricket was in a "no-win situation".

"The last 24 hours have disappointed and saddened the players," said Bevan.

"It is naive to think that sport and politics don't mix but the players have been used as political pawns and that is unacceptable."

Zimbabwe Information Minister Jonathan Moyo explained the u-turn on the journalists' visas.

"Delays in clearing 13 of the 55 had been encountered because the journalists had supplied insufficient information," he told ZBC radio, which reported that some of the journalists did not have their names on the websites of organisations they claimed to be working for."

Moyo said: :Further enquiries have since been carried out and all journalists have been cleared for accreditation" by the country's official media commission."

The delay in clearing the 13 journalists, which had threatened to scupper the forthcoming series of one-day internationals, was purely "an administrative matter that would have been speeded up had the affected journalists supplied the necessary information on time," the report said.

Under the International Cricket Council's Future Tours Programme, tours can only be cancelled on the advice of a government or because of overriding security and safety worries.

The ECB could face a two million-dollar ICC fine and suspension from the international game if England pull out for any other reason.

In a statement ICC president Ehsan Mani said: "The non-accreditation of these cricket journalists by the Zimbabwe Government was a very serious issue and the ICC welcomes the reversal of this original decision."

He added: "The commitment of the Zimbabwe Cricket chairman, Peter Chingoka, and the England and Wales Cricket Board chairman, David Morgan, has been critical to the resolution of this issue."

The Zimbabwe government accuses Britain's press of having a hostile news agenda towards its former colony, aimed at tarnishing the reputation of president Mugabe's government.

In the past British journalists have been accused of trying to sneak into the country under the pretext of covering sport to cover other stories.

The government has banned the BBC from reporting permanently from Zimbabwe, while two other news correspondents for the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian have been evicted from the country in recent years.

Zimbabwe accuses Britain of working with the main opposition party to effect a regime change in the country.

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