IT is almost certain now that the England cricket team will not be touring Zimbabwe in November next year following pressure by major sponsors Vodafone as well as the Britis
h government, IndependentSport has established.
Responding to questions from this paper, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said although the final decision has yet to be announced, there was no doubt over the verdict following deliberations made on the issue.
“The issue has been deliberated on but not yet concluded,” the ECB said. “However, the sponsors haven’t changed their stance and the same goes for the British government, which insists that the team must not tour Zimbabwe under the current administration.”
Vodafone threatened to withdraw a lucrative sponsorship package if the team toured Zimbabwe while the southern African country is still under the leadership of President Robert Mugabe. Vodafone provides a yearly £3 million sponsorship to the England Cricket team.
Ian MacLaurin, chairman of Vodafone, who until last year was chairman of the ECB said: “It would be abhorrent for England to play in Zimbabwe while the regime of President Robert Mugabe still holds power”.
Earlier this year, the England team, under immense pressure from the Tony Blair administration, boycotted a World Cup match in Zimbabwe where Mugabe has been accused of gross human rights abuses as well as wrecking a once thriving economy. England were docked points for refusing to fulfil the Harare fixture and bowed out in the first round.
Meanwhile, the British government is understood to be insisting that Mugabe hasn’t changed his undemocratic tendencies as well as abuse of human rights.
“The government in-sists that the Mugabe regime still pursues undemocratic policies and its crackdown on the opposition and other voices of dissent,” said a highly-placed source in the Blair administration.
“It is almost certain that the cricket team would be stopped from touring Zimbabwe.”
However, apart from the pressure from Vodafone and the British government, the ECB faces a dilemma over the boycott of the Zimbabwe tour, which inevitably attracts financial penalties from the International Cricket Council (ICC).
The ICC withheld US$3,5 million of England’s World Cup payments following the boycott of the match in Harare.