New Zealand want Zimbabwe banned

Published: Tuesday, June 28, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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New Zealand:The New Zealand government is leading a push to have Zimbabwe banned from international cricket after saying it would not welcome a team representing the troubled African nation.

Foreign Minister Phil Goff said New Zealand would ask the International Cricket Council (ICC) to suspend Zimbabwe because of widespread concerns about human rights abuses under President Robert Mugabe.

New Zealand's push comes after Western countries and organisations including Britain, the United States, the Commonwealth and the European Union condemned a new housing programme in Zimbabwe, which has claimed the lives of at least two children crushed to death in demolished houses.

Goff said New Zealand is trying to enlist the support of other cricketing nations before presenting their case to the sport's world governing body.

"But if we have to go to the ICC alone, we will," Goff said.

The British government has already pledged tacit support to New Zealand's stand while Australia said it is holding emergency talks with its national cricket board.

"Given the level of human rights abuses that are now taking place in Zimbabwe it's not appropriate for cricket matches to be played against Zimbabwe," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. late on Monday.

"But before we make any approach to the International Cricket Council, as a government, we'll be consulting with the Australian Cricket Board.

"After consulting with the Australian Cricket Board we will make a decision about whether we will join with the British and the New Zealanders to lobby the International Cricket Council to stop cricket matches against Zimbabwe for the time being."

The cricket world's leading administrators have all been meeting at Lord's in London over the past three days for the ICC's annual chief executives' meeting.

Zimbabwean cricket has been in crisis for the past few years. At the 2003 World Cup, held mostly in South Africa but with a few games in Zimbabwe, players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wore black armbands to "mourn the death of democracy".

Last year, most of the country's top players walked out on the national team over a race row, leading to calls for international teams to boycott Zimbabwe.

The ICC threatened to fine countries who refused to tour, but Australian leg-spinner Stuart MacGill lodged a personal protest, refusing to take part in his team's tour and telling selectors he could not "tour Zimbabwe and maintain a clear conscience".

Shortly after his announcement, Australia's tour was cancelled and no fines were issued. Later that year, England's planned tour of the country was also postponed after the ICC took away Zimbabwe's Test status, which has since been returned.

The issue has resurfaced in New Zealand because the Kiwis are due to play a home-and-away series against Zimbabwe this year.

Goff has already said the New Zealand leg of the series would not go ahead in December because the government would refuse to issue visas to the Zimbabwe team, but there is mounting concern over the Black Caps' scheduled visit to Zimbabwe in August.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said there was a groundswell of opposition against the tour proceeding.

She said the government would not pay the $2 million fine New Zealand Cricket faces for cancelling the tour, although Goff has asked the ICC to waive the penalty.

New Zealand Cricket has yet to comment on the latest developments. It has previously said the tour would go ahead but no action would be taken against individual players who refused to go.

Mugabe, who is also patron of Zimbabwe cricket, was re-elected as president earlier this year but opposition parties and many Western governments claim the election was rigged.

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