Diplomat to play cricket in Harare

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A British diplomat is scheduled to play cricket against the Zimbabwean national team today just months after England controversially abandoned their World Cup game there, it emerged last night.

The irony of a British government official playing against Zimbabwe in Harare will not be lost on the England cricket team. The Government had said at the time that any game would be seen as support for disgraced Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, and eventually the team refused to play.

At the time, the then International Development Secretary, Clare Short, said playing matches in Zimbabwe would be seen as an endorsement of the tyrannical regime. In December last year, Tony Blair backed calls for England to boycott the cricket World Cup matches in Zimbabwe. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "We feel it would be better if the England team did not go, but this is a decision that can only be taken by the cricket authorities."

In January, the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, said after a meeting with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB): "This is not the Government's decision. It's the ECB's decision, but we think it would be inappropriate to play the game in Zimbabwe."

Five members of the British High Commission and the Department for International Development were initially reported to be listed for the charity match.

Butthe Foreign Office played down the British involvement in the game yesterday, saying that just one player was a possible contender for a charity team organised by the wife of the Pakistani High Commissioner.

The FO spokesman confirmed that the match in Harare today would be played against the Zimbabwean national team, but stressed that if the man was chosen, he would be playing in a private capacity and did not represent the High Commission.

The spokesman refused to say whether the FO would use any pressure to ensure the British man did not play.

Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner who once attempted to arrest Robert Mugabe on charges of torture, described the decision to play as "odd".