Purpose of World Cup lost in fog of controversy

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The Independent Online

If the organisers of the 2003 World Cup wish it to be remembered for the actions of the players on the field, England's match against Zimbabwe in Harare, and those scheduled to take place in Kenya, must be relocated to South Africa.

If the organisers of the 2003 World Cup wish it to be remembered for the actions of the players on the field, England's match against Zimbabwe in Harare, and those scheduled to take place in Kenya, must be relocated to South Africa.

A failure to do so will result in the game's biggest show being upstaged by events off the field and by the views of administrators and politicians.

Nasser Hussain's 15-man squad made their position blatantly clear after stating on Monday that they do not wish to play in Zimbabwe on 13 February for reasons both of morality and safety. The players were criticised initially for failing to have a view on the implications of fulfilling the fixture. But now, after they have reached a decision, their conclusion should be respected and acted upon. It should not be ignored, especially as they are far from alone in thinking that Zimbabwe, with its current political climate, is in no fit state to co-host one of sport's biggest events.

After all, it is the players who are faced with the biggest responsibility. It is they who have to walk out on to a cricket field and provide spectators with entertainment, it is they who are in most danger and it is they who will feel most responsible should anything happen while the match is under way.

Whether they be in the ground, watching on television or listening on radio, sport is about providing people with enjoyment. At times this view seems to be lost, and it is hard to believe such feelings will be present among anyone observing the match at the Harare Sports Ground, should it take place.

For Hussain's side the least important item with which to return from their fleeting visit to Zimbabwe will be the four World Cup points on offer for winning the game. Admittedly, England desperately need them if they are to have any chance of reaching the latter stages of the competition – two points for a tie or a no-result will be of little use – but what all the players, and indeed everyone concerned with the tournament will be hoping, is that the same squad get in and out of Zimbabwe safely with nothing violent or embarrassing happening while they are there.

If a way out fails to be found and England are forced to play this match, how would the players feel if distant gunfire was heard while the game was taking place? How can your mind be focussed on winning a match – and how important is victory in a game of cricket anyway – when the result of your decision to play could lead to the death of someone demonstrating outside the ground. These are not circumstances any sportsman would want to play under, or issues they would like on their conscience. These are reasons enough for the game to be shifted.

It is hard to believe that the World Cup is supposed to be a celebration of cricket. Of course the tournament needs to generate money for the well- being and future development of the game, but it is of equal importance that the sport's image also benefits. Fun and enjoyment should be the principal reasons why this event takes place, and it is only through the game being viewed in such a manner that it will blossom. Such opinions appear to have been overlooked recently.

The last World Cup, here in the United Kingdom in 1999, was advertised as "a festival of cricket''. With such an unsatisfactory affair escalating, this one is in grave danger of becoming a fiasco. The tournament offers the game the ideal stage for promoting itself, but cricket has no chance of achieving these goals while such controversy hangs over it.

Changing the venue of England's first pool match at such a late stage will be sad for cricket in Zimbabwe and it will also inconvenience the International Cricket Council, who organised the event. To do so seven of the 10 Test-playing countries have to agree. To date the ICC and the England and Wales Cricket Board have been stubborn in their desire to see the tournament follow its original format. Only a failure to agree on player-safety is seen as an acceptable way out.

Tomorrow, the views of an independent American security firm, Kroll, who have been hired by the ICC to assess safety in Zimbabwe, will be presented to cricket's governing body. For the sake of the World Cup it is to be hoped they state that levels of safety are below an acceptable level and recommend a change of venue, because only this, it seems, will take the decision-making away from those who are more worried about finances, setting precedents and politically getting one over on a fellow member than the game itself.

Only such a sanction will allow the players to once again dominate the headlines, and the focus can finally return to the cricket – which is due to begin in just 11 days' time.

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