Straw gives blessing to Zimbabwe one-day tour

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The Independent Online

The Zimbabwean cricket team will not be barred from playing in London in September, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday.

The Zimbabwean cricket team will not be barred from playing in London in September, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday.

Straw told MPs that while the visit could spark protests, it would be wrong to punish a sports team for political reasons. He was speaking as it was confirmed by the International Cricket Council that Zimbabwe had been banned from Test cricket for the rest of the year.

That effectively scraps the planned winter series with England, although the ICC said that Michael Vaughan's team would still fly out for a series of one-day matches in order to continue the sport's development in the country.

"We do not believe that stopping Zimbabwean cricketers from travelling to the United Kingdom will advance our cause, also the cause of the Zimbabwean people, any more than it would have been appropriate to have banned the Zimbabwean team three years ago for the Commonwealth Games," Straw said. A travel ban imposed by the European Union was aimed at President Robert Mugabe and key members of his regime, not at sports men and women, he added.

But he came under pressure from Labour's former sports minister, Kate Hoey, to prevent the Zimbabwean team from playing here in the ICC Champions Trophy. Hoey said that cricket was a special case because President Mugabe was so closely linked to the national team and had used the sport as a political tool.

"He himself is the patron. That is why a Zimbabwe team coming here, coming in the country's name, in Mugabe's name, is not acceptable," she said. "And it is certainly not acceptable coming into my constituency, at The Oval, surrounded by hundreds of Zimbabwean asylum-seekers."

Straw responded: "Any visit by the cricket team here is likely to engender very strong feelings and possible peaceful protest; that is the inherent right of everybody living in a democracy."

Zimbabwe's cricketers and their ruling body have been given 14 days by the ICC to resolve their differences. If agreement cannot be reached between the players who have refused to play Tests in protest at selection policy and the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, the ICC will take action to break the deadlock.

The ZCU, headed by President Mugabe, has threatened that it will not be bound by any ICC ruling. But Ehsan Mani, the ICC president, said yesterday: "If there is no agreement on the issues we will have to make a decision. The ZCU is of the opinion that this process has no jurisdiction, but the ICC's legal advice is that it does."

The ICC has signed up to the World Anti-Doping Agency drugs code which will be introduced at the ICC Champions Trophy in September.

Three new national teams - China, Mexico and the Isle of Man - joined the ICC as affiliate members yesterday. Their membership approval at the ICC annual conference in the Long Room at Lord's takes total membership of cricket's world governing body to 92 countries.