Lord's under renewed threat of 'chaos and mayhem'

Cricket protest: Hundreds plan demonstrations at Test match against Zimbabwe to highlight human rights abuses under Mugabe regime
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The Independent Online

Anti-Mugabe protesters threatened "chaos and mayhem" at the Test match between England and Zimbabwe which starts tomorrow after the MCC refused to allow a protest inside Lord's Cricket Ground.

The executive board of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), including Sir Tim Rice and the former England captain Ted Dexter, met yesterday to discuss the threats but would not bow to an ultimatum by the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to prevent pitch invasions. The Stop the Tour campaign said it will now continue with its plans for a series of stunts to stop play on the first day of the Test match to highlight human rights' abuses committed by President Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe.

Mr Tatchell had offered to call off plans to disrupt the test if the MCC allowed activists to occupy a section of the ground to protest. He said a group of his supporters had got tickets for the first day of the Test and protests would be staged both inside and outside the ground.

Mr Tatchell declined to detail the nature of the protest but organisers have said previously that protesters planned to invade the pitch wearing cricket whites daubed with fake blood.

"The MCC must bear full responsibility for any chaos and mayhem," Mr Tatchell said. "I'm rather surprised because if the MCC is serious about preventing disruption it would have reached an agreement with us."

At least four Zimbabwean groups bringing hundreds of protesters are expected to gather for the first day of the Test. Mr Tatchell's group is the only one to threaten direct action. The others say they do not want to halt play but one group said it planned to circumvent a ban on bringing banners into the ground by putting up a line of umbrellas displaying an anti-Mugabe message.

Protesters, including six Labour MPs, will also gather outside the ground from 9.30am to picket the Grace Gate.

Officials at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the MCC are countering the threat with a large police presence and increased security measures. The officials indicated there would be a round-the-clock watch on the pitch to ensure that it was not dug up. David Clarke, events manager for ECB, said: "We are determined to ensure the lawful activity of playing Test match cricket will be allowed to take place."

The Stop the Tour campaign claimed the extra security measures would bite into the tour's profits. But the call by campaigners for cricket supporters to boycott the match appears to have gone unheeded. Lord's officials said they expected 18,000 people to turn up for the first two days and at least 20,000 for the next couple of days. It represented a 50 per cent increase on ticket sales compared with the previous tour by Zimbabwe, three years ago.

Campaigners ask that those who attend the Test wear black armbands, copying the protest by the Zimbabwean players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga during the World Cup to symbolise the death of democracy in their country. Olonga has backed the tour and will be commentating on it for Channel 4. The broadcaster said that its coverage would not cut away from any protest within the ground.

The Zimbabwean team said they had come across little protest during their tour so far and the Professional Cricketers' Association said none of the England team members had come under pressure to boycott the game.