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ECB chief upset after meeting on Zimbabwe fails
January 09, 2003 20:54 IST
England cricket chief Tim Lamb attacked the British government on Thursday for its belated opposition to England's World Cup fixture in Zimbabwe.
Speaking after a meeting with Sports Minister Tessa Jowell, Lamb said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had failed to reach an agreement with the government over England's participation in the February 13 match, leaving them with little time to make a major political decision.
The ECB could face a multi-million pound fine from the International Cricket Council if it boycotts the match, as the government wishes, but Jowell ruled out any form of compensation.
"I think we've been put in a very difficult situation... only at the 59th minute of the 11th hour have they told us what their view is on this," said ECB chief executive Lamb.
"At no stage till mid December did the government make clear that they were disapproving of our playing in this match. We have signed legal contracts."
Jowell told reporters the government opposed the match but said it is up to the cricket authorities to make the final decision.
"At the end of the day the decision is with the ECB," she said.
The ECB has been under increasing pressure to boycott the match as a show of opposition to Robert Mugabe's leadership.
Lamb stressed that the government's stance could have very serious legal and financial effects on English cricket.
"The government has informed us that there will be no compensation," he said. ""This will be felt at the development and grassroots level.
"I think that we have been put in a very difficult situation. That could have a serious detrimental financial effect on English cricket.
"In these situations, it's often the development side of things, grass roots cricket, all the money we're putting into women's and girls' cricket, all the development activities that we've been engaged in since the formation of the ECB six years ago -- these are the areas that are likely to suffer.
"What we said to the government was that we would like them to think long and hard about whether they were prepared to see the fabric of cricket in England and Wales being jeopardised in this way.
International Cricket Council president Malcolm Gray has said England would face a one million pounds ($1.6 million) bill if they did not play the fixture.
"We explored very thoroughly the ECB's major concern which is the cost to them," Jowell said. "Because it is a decision for them there can be no question of compensation from the taxpayer."
Jowell said she had re-emphasised during the meeting the government's view that England should not visit Zimbabwe for both security reasons and because of the country's "appalling" human rights record.
"What is important is that a cricket match does not become a festival that Mugabe uses for propaganda advantages."
The government is strongly opposed to England playing in Harare but has said it can not make the final decision. The ECB says the decision is a political one and should be made by the government.
Lamb said the ECB's management board would now consider their position and added another meeting with the government was possible.
The ECB said this week that if a firm decision was not made at Thursday's meeting, a 15-man ECB management board would have the final say.
Mugabe has received widespread criticism for his controversial land reform programme, which opponents blame for the country's deepening economic crisis and food shortages.
The World Cup, primarily staged in South Africa, is the game's premier one-day event. Six of the 54 games are due to take place in Zimbabwe.
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