ZIMBABWE Cricket (ZC) has rejected a £200 000 sweetener to voluntarily pull out of a tour of England scheduled for May 2009, leaving the hosts of
the next ICC World Twenty20 in a quandary.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had made the offer in a desperate bid to forestall an anticipated damaging row, given that Britain is unlikely to grant visas to Zimbabwe players and officials on political grounds.
Politicians in Britain, New Zealand and Australia have been calling for cricket sanctions
against Zimbabwe as part of exhaustive efforts to isolate President Robert Mugabe for alleged human rights abuses.
Britain has hardened its attitude towards Mugabe, with Premier Gordon Brown threatening to boycott the EU-Africa meeting in Lisbon this weekend if the 83-year-old former guerrilla leader attends.
In manoeuvres to avert the predictable row the Zimbabwe question is expected to stir, the ECB had sought to persuade ZC to cancel the May 2009 tour by “mutual consent”.
In return, the ECB would not only postpone England’s tour of Zimbabwe in 2012 but also offer ZC £200 000 for development purposes.
The ECB also proposed to lobby the British Home Office to grant Zimbabwe visas to play at the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 tournament in England.
The proposals were contained in a “memorandum of understanding” presented by ECB chairman Giles Clarke at a meeting he had hastily convened in Johannesburg last week with his ZC counterpart Peter Chingoka.
International Cricket Council (ICC) president Ray Mali also attended the meeting.
Clarke had wanted Chingoka to sign the memorandum of understanding before the ECB opens the bidding for matches to grounds intending to host them by December 17.
However, Chingoka refused to entertain the ECB proposals saying ZC was obliged to fulfil its ICC Future Tours Programme commitments.
ZC’s stance has left the ECB in a quandary as the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 tournament might be taken away from England if Zimbabwe players and officials are denied visas.
The ICC is also likely to be forced to move its annual and executive meetings from London if Chingoka, a senior board member, cannot attend.
Chingoka yesterday confirmed he had met Clarke in South Africa and turned down the ECB proposals.
“I was in Johannesburg last Wednesday for the meeting and I turned down the ECB offers,” Chingoka told IndependentSport.
He vowed ZC would not lobby England for visas in order for the tour to go ahead.
“The FTP commits every member to host and be hosted as scheduled,” he said. “It’s our own right to have these tours. Zimbabwe’s players must be allowed to participate.
“We don’t need to lobby where we have rights, but the complications being created are for the ICC to resolve.”
Chingoka was in October denied a visa to enter Britain to testify at the hearing of Australian umpire Darrell Hair in London.
In June, Chingoka was almost denied a visa to enter the United Kingdom until the British felt the move might jeorpadise the appointment of then ECB chief executive David Morgan as the next ICC president.
Playing Zimbabwe has always been a thorny issue for England since Mugabe started seizing white-owned farms and won violence-marred presidential polls in 2002.
Zimbabwe was a British colony.
England refused to fulfil their 2003 World Cup match against Zimbabwe in Harare citing security and moral concerns as pressure mounted on Mugabe to leave office.
In 2005, England only toured Zimbabwe despite massive political pressure because they feared an ICC fine of US$2 million.
New Zealand in 2005 denied entry visas to Zimbabwe players and officials ostensibly to send a “strong message” to Mugabe against his human rights record.
Australia this year cancelled a tour of Zimbabwe scheduled for September on moral grounds as violence against opposition activists intensified.
West Indies A followed suit in July, citing security fears, but their senior side is currently touring Zimbabwe after getting an expert all-clear.