ICC report to damn Zimbabwe 'rebels'

The official report into allegations of racism by Zimbabwe's rebel white cricketers is likely to reject their claims. It could also turn the tables by citing examples of their own prejudiced behaviour.

The report has been written but will not be released until next weekend at the International Cricket Council's board meeting in Lahore. But it is understood that the players, who have been in dispute with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union since April, will receive scant backing.

England's tour of Zimbabwe for five one-day matches next month will go ahead. If the lawyers' report next week sides with the ZCU, those opposing the trip will find their argument reduced.

Although the row between the ZCU and the players has dragged on, its effect on the world game should not be underestimated. The ICC have often been a fragile alliance of the major cricketing nations, but any upheld suggestions of racism could undermine the way the game is run. This was merely reinforced yesterday when an inquiry was launched into claims of racial overtones in South Africa's dressing room made by two disaffected players.

Sympathy for the rebels was widespread when the dispute was provoked by the ZCU's treatment of the captain, Heath Streak, who claimed to have been sacked. The goodwill towards the players, most of whom have now left Zimbabwe, has been gradually eroded. The ICC have been frustrated by their intransigent approach to the hearing and to the disputes procedure, which should resume after next weekend.

Zimbabwe's former team got on, but there are suspicions in some quarters that senior white players, who had failed to establish themselves in international cricket, resented the prospect of being replaced by young, untried black players. This caused friction on the Australian tour last October. For one Test the team contained only two black members; now there are only two white players.

The hearing in Harare a fortnight ago was abandoned after the aggrieved players refused to give evidence with ZCU officials present. The ZCU refused to accede to a request not to attend. The two-man panel of the Indian solicitor-general Goolam Vahanvati and South African judge Steven Majiedt, barely managed to conceal their criticism of the players. They proceeded on written evidence.

The ICC meeting will also discuss the international structure - which will ironically involve Zimbabwe's likely status - and whether to move their headquarters from London to Dubai or Malaysia. The British government have offered tax concessions for them to stay, but Dubai has offered the world for them to go.

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