THE British government is set to ban Zimbabwe’s cricket team from touring England in May next year in the latest move to isolate President Rober
t Mugabe over his policies.
But the ban could backfire if Zimbabwe players and officials cannot be granted visas to enter Britain for the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 tournament to be hosted by England.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) could be forced to move the tournament elsewhere in order for Zimbabwe, a full member, to take part.
In a bid to forestall the political row and also save the tournament, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had last month tried in vain to persuade Zimbabwe to voluntarily pull out of the tour.
The ECB had offered to pay Zimbabwe Cricket £200 000 as compensation.
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.
Britain has hardened its attitude towards Mugabe, with Premier Gordon Brown boycotting the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon last month because the 83-year-old former guerilla leader attended.
Brown’s spokesman yesterday confirmed plans to engage the ECB following massive lobbying by British politicians to impose a cricket ban on Zimbabwe.
“We obviously will need to discuss this closer to the time,” the spokesman said in response to an article published in The Sun yesterday.
“A decision will have to be made about this at some point, but we are not at that point at the moment.”
A report in The Sun had quoted an unnamed government source revealing the plans to ban the Zimbabwe cricket side.
“England’s cricket authorities wanted assurance from us about what to do and now they have it,” the source was quoted as saying.
“It is quite clearly our responsibility to stand up and be counted. No-one should sit on the fence when it comes to Zimbabwe. Mugabe needs to be given clear signals from all quarters that his regime is unacceptable.”
Conservatives shadow foreign minister David Lidington immediately backed the plans, saying the stance had taken too long to come.
“It is right that the government has finally decided to take serious steps against the Zimbabwean regime,” Lidington said in a statement. “However, whilst I support this latest development, Gordon Brown’s new tough stance against Mugabe has come far too late.”
Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Peter Chingoka was last October denied a visa to enter Britain to testify at the hearing of Australian umpire Darrell Hair in London.
Britain is unlikely not to follow the example set by New Zealand who in 2005 denied entry visas to Zimbabwe players and officials ostensibly to send a “strong message” to Mugabe against his human rights record.
Former Australian prime minister John Howard last year barred his country’s cricket team from touring Zimbabwe.
In the first standoff, 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 toured Zimbabwe despite massive political pressure because they feared an ICC fine of US$2 million.