Speed ready to report on security in Zimbabwe

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The Independent Online

The ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed gave little away after touching down in Johannesburg yesterday following his trip to Zimbabwe to assess security ahead of the World Cup.

The ICC will take a final decision on Friday on whether it is safe for teams to honour their World Cup commitments in Zimbabwe.

And while competition director Dr Ali Bacher said in Harare earlier on Thursday that he had been "reassured" by the visit, Speed refused to give any indication of whether all safety measures had been fulfilled after a whirlwind 24–hour visit to the country.

Speed and Bacher met with diplomats from Britain, Australia, South Africa, and Pakistan, as well as representatives from the Zimbabwean and South African police services, in Harare.

The trip was a follow–up visit to the ICC security delegation's fact–finding mission in November.

And Speed said: "I can't say at this stage what the result of our visit to Zimbabwe is, that's something I will report to the board in some detail tomorrow.

"It may be that a decision is made by the ICC board tomorrow, or it may be the case that the board say 'that's a good start, we will adjourn this meeting and pick it up next week', if they're seeking further information about any of the four issues that are on the agenda.

Describing the meetings as "useful", Speed added: "The final decision will be made by the ICC board at the meeting after I report back to them."

Meanwhile, Speed, pointed out that there was "no absolute deadline" for moving World Cup cricket matches from Zimbabwe to alternative venues.

He will report back to the ICC before they make their decision over the safety of the matches on Friday.

"There is no absolute deadline if we have to move matches. We can leave it quite late," he said.

"There are obviously practical things to consider if we have to move the matches but we can leave it as late as a week or five days before the event. That is not to say it is going to happen."

Two other issues are on the ICC meeting agenda, namely security concerns over matches in Kenya and the sponsorship row within the Indian team.

Six countries are due to play matches in Zimbabwe during the tournament, including England who face the hosts Zimbabwe in Harare on February 13.

Bacher is confident the upcoming World Cup will be the "best ever", despite the safety concerns.

"We stressed that it was important that the games take place in the right cricketing environment," Bacher said in reference to his meeting with the Zimbabwean police commissioner.

"And we pointed out to him that the World Cup was awarded to South Africa by the International Cricket Council in 1993 and it was an offer by the United Cricket Board of South Africa to host games in Zimbabwe to help spread the gospel of the game in Africa.

"We are confident that this will be a terrific World Cup, not only for South Africa but also for Africa and world cricket."

According to Bacher, the Zimbabwean police confirmed that they would allow "peaceful protests" at games during the World Cup, "as long as the necessary protocol was followed".

Bacher explained: "The police gave us an undertaking that they would permit peaceful demonstrations provided they go through the correct process of applications which state the time, date, route to be used and length of the demonstration.

"Those demonstrations must take place responsibly and our reaction was that this was not dissimilar from South Africa's laws on the matter.

"We also told him (the commissioner) that we were mandated by the ICC to ensure that not one spectator gets onto the field in 54 matches and his answer was that there was no strategy on the matter as yet but that they would work with our security teams to ensure that this arrangement is in place."

Bacher added that an undertaking was also given that police presence at the grounds would be "low profile".

"He seemed to recognise the value of good PR for all the matches in South Africa and Zimbabwe," Dr Bacher said.

"After the meeting we have every confidence that they can fulfil the promises made in Harare today."

Six countries are due to play matches in Zimbabwe during the tournament, including England and Australia.

The majority of the World Cup games will be played in South Africa, with some games being staged in Kenya.