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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Reuters > Report

Zimbabwe cloud gets darker as World Cup row grows

February 11, 2003 18:36 IST

Stunned by Shane Warne's dramatic World Cup exit for taking banned drugs, Australia's players may barely have noticed the procession of coffins outside the ground as they prepared to face Pakistan on Tuesday.

But with England threatening to boycott Thursday's match in President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe and Australia under pressure to follow, the 2003 cricket World Cup is as likely to make history for the politics off the field as the drama on it.

By the time most flag-waving fans arrived at Johannesburg's Wanderers ground, police had trucked the cardboard coffins away and dispersed the exiled Zimbabweans who staged the protest.

"What we are saying is Mugabe is bad, so you are not supposed to go and play a sport like cricket there," said Jairos Tamangani, one of the demonstrators.

The cricketing conflict has broken out just weeks away from a decision on whether to extend Zimbabwe's year-long suspension from the Commonwealth, a 54-nation group composed mostly of former British colonies.

South Africa and Nigeria are signalling that they want sanctions against Mugabe to be eased or lifted while Australia, the third member of a Commonwealth troika, wants them maintained or strengthened.

On the cricket pitch and off it the Zimbabwe dispute has ripped open a racial chasm between the "white" Commonwealth and many of its African and Asian members.

Britain and Australia say Mugabe must be sanctioned for rigging elections last year and pushing half his 14 million people towards starvation by his seizure of white-owned farms.

Like Nigeria, South Africa favours a less confrontational approach to its northern neighbour.

South African President Thabo Mbeki launched a broadside at Britain and Australia, accusing them of using government travel advisories warning of terrorist threats in African countries to undermine the continent's first cricket World Cup -- warnings which may have contributed to New Zealand's decision not to play in Kenya.

Privately, a senior British official said he was "staggered" by Mbeki's assertions in his weekly Internet letter.

The issue is all the more pressing amid almost daily reports of police quashing opposition demonstrations and harassing journalists in Zimbabwe. The main opposition leader faces a possible death sentence if found guilty of plotting to murder Mugabe, a plot his defence says was fabricated to discredit him.

Two of Zimbabwe's team -- one black (Henry Olonga) and one white (Andy Flower) -- wore black armbands when they took to the field in Harare on Monday, saying they were mourning the death of democracy.


Despairing of any concerted action by the Commonwealth or African nations, Zimbabwean exiles carrying the coffins outside the Wanderers demanded Australia, Pakistan, Holland and India boycott their matches in Zimbabwe.

"The coffins represent more than 200 people who were killed by Mugabe because they were against him," Tamangani, of pressure group Concerned Zimbabweans Abroad, told Reuters.

Inside the ground, tournament organiser Ali Bacher, a former South African captain who organised so-called "rebel" tours by foreign teams to apartheid South Africa in defiance of sporting sanctions, made a last-ditch bid to get England to Zimbabwe.

"I have come to make a concerted and impassioned plea to the England cricket board and the England players," he said.

"It's time to make a decision."

English cricket chiefs first resisted Prime Minister Tony Blair's pressure to boycott Zimbabwe in protest at Mugabe, but backtracked when players expressed concerns over security.

They failed to convince world cricket heads that Zimbabwe was unsafe for English players -- some of whom have been reduced to tears by the row, according to captain Nasser Hussain.

World cricket chief Malcolm Speed said on Tuesday that South African police had dismissed as "propaganda" death threats against England players if they travelled to Zimbabwe.

He told the ECB to make up its mind whether to go to Harare on Thursday or to cancel -- which could cost England millions of pounds as well as dash any slim hopes of lifting the World Cup.

© Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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Number of User Comments: 1

Sub: Don't play in Zimbabwe

Congratulations to Zimbabwean sportsmen Henry Olonga and Andy Flower for their courageous and honourable statement of distress on behalf of the millions of their compatriots ...

Posted by Michael


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