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Blair slams ICC over Zimbabwe

May 05, 2004 19:22 IST

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair has pointed the finger of blame at the International Cricket Council (ICC) in the stand-off over whether England should tour Zimbabwe later this year.

The England and Wales cricket board (ECB) has been embroiled in a political battle with the government and the ICC over October's tour.

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"We would prefer them not to go but there is a difference between doing that and ordering them not to go, which I think would step over the proper line," Blair told parliament on Wednesday.

"I think many people, however, believe rightly that the problem actually resides with the ICC," he said.

The ICC, the sport's governing body, said last month that it would suspend any country refusing to fulfill its tour obligations for anything other than security reasons or governmental direction and fine them $2 million.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will meet chiefs from the ECB on Thursday but Blair indicated they would not get what they most want -- a government instruction not to tour, which would allow them to escape ICC sanctions.

SERIOUS CONCERNS

The British government has said it has serious concerns about the human rights record of President Robert Mugabe's government, but that it is down to the ECB to make the decision whether to tour.

Ministers say they have no authority to ban the tour, citing the 1980 Moscow Olympics when British athletes ignored the wishes of Margaret Thatcher's government and competed.

Zimbabwe cricket chiefs have consistently argued there is no sound reason to cancel. The England team refused to play there in the 2003 World Cup because of security concerns.

Straw wrote to the ECB earlier this year, saying the security situation in Zimbabwe had worsened, not improved, since then.

Leading England players like Graham Thorpe and Mark Butcher have already voiced their doubts about playing in Zimbabwe.

Australia bowler Stuart MacGill made himself unavailable for the world champions' tour of Zimbabwe later this month because of moral concerns.

Mike Peacock
Source:
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