England say yes to Zimbabwe

LONDON: England confirmed on Tuesday they will play their World Cup fixture in Zimbabwe next month despite opposition from the British government. 

At a news conference delayed for two hours after a small group of protesters barged their way into Lord’s, England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tim Lamb said the February 13 Harare match would go ahead. 

“The decision of the management board was unanimous,” Lamb said. “We have not been elected to make decisions of a political nature.” 

The ECB decision follows a meeting with British Culture, Media and Sport Minister Tessa Jowell five days ago. Jowell expressed both security concerns and government disapproval of what she called the appalling human rights record of Robert Mugabe’s government. 

Tuesday’s announcement was greeted with relief by World Cup chief executive Ali Bacher and the chairman of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union Peter Chingoka. 

“Cricket takes take decisions for cricketing reasons and is not qualified to do the job of politicians,” Bacher said. 

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the government had told the ECB it would prefer them to call of the match. 

“They have taken a different decision,” he said. “We accept their decision.”        

Nine demonstrators, headed by British activist Peter Tatchell, pushed through the North Gate at cricket’s world headquarters 30 minutes before the scheduled news conference. 

Tatchell, who has twice tried to make a citizen’s arrest on Mugabe, compared the visit to Britain’s competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in front of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. 

“Mugabe is just using this to boost his credibility,” he said. 

The group were persuaded to leave the room at the Lord’s indoor school and Tatchell later complained to police that he had been punched by security officials. Another demonstrator, Zimbabwean Alan Wilkinson, said a cut on his head had been caused by a guard wielding a mobile phone. 

When the news conference finally got underway at a room in the Warner Stand, Lamb said there were no economic or trading sanctions against Zimbabwe and no universal sporting boycotts. 

“We have not been elected to take decisions of a political nature,” he said. “Moreover, I would reiterate that the cancellation of one cricket match will not make the slightest bit of difference to the Mugabe regime or in any way lessen the economic and political turmoil in Zimbabwe.” 

He said the England players’ representatives had reported that all the World Cup squad were happy to be guided by the ECB. 

“There’s no indication that any player wishes to withdraw,” Lamb said. – Reuters 

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