THE British government appears to have ended speculation that it will step in to prevent Zimbabwe from touring England in 2009 and has reiterated its policy of leaving the final decision to the ECB.
It had been believed that a ha
rder line towards Zimbabwe under Gordon Brown could lead to the British government refusing to grant visas to the Zimbabwe team for the bilateral Test and one-day series.
But speaking in a debate in the House of Lords, Lord Malloch-Brown made it clear that no such action would be taken.
“The Foreign Secretary and others in this government have made it clear that we do not encourage the ECB to allow Zimbabwe to tour England in 2009 or England to tour Zimbabwe in 2012 if the situation in the country is as it is now,” he said.
“We continue to speak to the ECB about these issues but it remains a decision for the board. We have decided that the government can make their position clear, but that it is not for us to intervene directly in this matter.”
Lord Morris of Harmsworth, the former TUC leader Bill Morris, was unimpressed.
“I was proud that our prime minister declined to attend the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon because he did not wish to be in the same room as Mugabe. That was a good start,” he said.
“But if the prime minister does not want to be in the same room as Mugabe, is it right to expect our sportsmen and women to be on the same field of play as representatives of that regime?
“John Howard, as prime minister of Australia, gave a clear lead. He said that Australian cricketers would not play against Zimbabwe. If that is good enough for Australia, it should be good enough for the United Kingdom.”
Kate Hoey, the former sports minister and chair of the parliamentary all-party committee on Zimbabwe, told Cricinfo that she was surprised at Lord Malloch-Brown’s statement.
“It does not seem to reflect the views of Downing Street earlier this year,” she said. “It would be a travesty if we gave visas to any Zimbabwean cricket team to tour and I want to see the prime minister clarify the situation.
“I think it would be a good idea if we asked to meet Giles Clarke (the ECB chairman) so that we can exchange views on sporting links with Zimbabwe.”
If the government maintains the line suggested by Malloch-Brown then it makes it likely the tour will proceed. It forms part of the ICC’s Future Tours Programme, and were the ECB not to honour its commitment then it would face multi-million-pound fines from the ICC. However, were the series to be scrapped because of government intervention, as happened in Australia and New Zealand, then there would be no such fine. — Cricinfo.