ECB must look to Government for escape route

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The Independent Online

It is looking more and more likely that England will go ahead with their scheduled tour to Zimbabwe in November, after the England and Wales Cricket Board met with officials from that country's cricket union at Lord's yesterday.

It is looking more and more likely that England will go ahead with their scheduled tour to Zimbabwe in November, after the England and Wales Cricket Board met with officials from that country's cricket union at Lord's yesterday.

However, a decision will not be made until the ECB officials have met with the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the Culture Media and Sport Secretary, Tessa Jowell, early next month.

But unless the government steps in and states that England must not go through with the visit the ECB will have little choice but to go because of the grave financial implications.

John Read, the ECB director of corporate affairs, explained: "At a recent meeting of the International Cricket Council in Auckland it was decided not only to fine a country up to $2m (£1.1m), but also to suspend that country from international cricket for up to a year.

"Since 90 per cent of our revenue comes from international cricket, if we were banned for a year that would amount to something in excess of £50m. It would have a devastating effect on the game in this country."

The ICC has acknowledged that if a country's government prohibits its teams from touring then no fine would be levied and no suspension imposed. That would also apply if a case could be made by the touring country that the safety and the security of the members of their party would be compromised, but Peter Chingoka, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, appears to have closed off that escape route for England.

Chingoka, who spent an hour with ECB officials yesterday putting the case for the tour to go ahead, insisted that safety and security would not be an issue for England. And he added: "It is vital for cricket in Zimbabwe that overseas teams continue to visit our country. Today was an important opportunity for the ZCU to communicate directly to the people who will make a final decision on the tour."

The Zimbabwe delegation also remained optimistic about the dispute which has seen 15 contracted players suspended for allegedly being in breach of contract. "The door remains open to the players and their representatives to talk to the Union in an attempt to find a solution to the very serious problems we are currently facing," said Chingoka.

* Mihir Bose, the Daily Telegraph sportswriter, has been deported from Zimbabwe. He had been intending to do a series of interviews with leading figures in Zimbabwean cricket regarding the possible cancellation of England's tour to the country.

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