LONDON :Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Monday gave the strongest hint yet that the British government does not want Zimbabwe's planned cricket tour of England next year to go ahead.
Speaking to Channel 4 News television, Miliband said government ministers would be holding talks with English cricket's governing body about the proposed tour in mid-2009 for two five-day and three one-day internationals.
"The situation in Zimbabwe is obviously deeply concerning. I think that bilateral cricket tours at the moment don't send the right message about our concern," he said in an interview.
"This is something that needs to be discussed with the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) and others."
Miliband's comments follow a newspaper report last week which said Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants the ECB to pull the plug on the tour, although his official spokesman has said it is too early to make a decision.
Any ban would be the latest snub by Britain to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Brown stayed away from a key summit of European and African leaders last month in protest at what he said was Mugabe's human rights abuses and responsibility for the country's economic freefall.
Government backing for a ban would get around the threat of a fine from world cricket's governing body the International Cricket Council (ICC) although the ECB may be fined if Zimbabwe cannot play in the Twenty20 tournament.
England is due to host that competition in June 2009 and the ICC are unlikely to allow one of its major events to go ahead in a country where a full member nation like Zimbabwe is barred.
Zimbabwe have not played Test cricket since 2005 when they voluntarily withdrew amidst widespread concerns about a collapse in the standard of their performance in the five-day format.