Angus Fraser: The sport that I love has sold its soul

How can sport take place in an environment where constant fear of brutality hangs over every spectator?
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The Independent Online

The England cricket team should not be in Zimbabwe for the reasons that have been well documented in this newspaper. Somebody, whether it be the British Government, the International Cricket Council or the England and Wales Cricket Board, should by now have had the guts to stand up and call this tour off.

The England cricket team should not be in Zimbabwe for the reasons that have been well documented in this newspaper. Somebody, whether it be the British Government, the International Cricket Council or the England and Wales Cricket Board, should by now have had the guts to stand up and call this tour off.

It is morally wrong to visit a country that treats its people as Robert Mugabe does, knowing that his government will use every minute the squad spends on Zimbabwe soil for political gain. We were given a glimpse of this when the Zimbabwe government decided to ban 13 members of the British media from reporting on the trip. It was only through the reaction of the ECB chairman, David Morgan, and Michael Vaughan's 14-man squad, who threatened to cancel the tour, that the Zimbabwe government changed its mind. The speed at which they made a contradictory U-turn highlights the fact that they have more to gain from hosting these matches than turning Vaughan's side away.

After all, if it is all right for the England cricket team to travel here and play four one-day internationals, there must be nothing wrong, and it must be all right for anybody else to come here and trade. The politics behind this wretched tour will infiltrate into the matches, and the environment at the grounds will be nothing like it should be for a contest between two international sides.

Most of Vaughan's squad have openly stated that their presence in Zimbabwe in no way condones what is taking place here. They do not want to be in this country and cannot wait for 6 December to arrive, the day they fly to South Africa. Sporting events are supposed to be occasions to which people go to be entertained. They allow the public to relax and enjoy itself. But how can this take place in an environment where there is the constant fear of brutality and torture hanging over every spectator?

Andy Flower and Henry Olonga fear returning to the country of their birth after wearing black armbands while playing for Zimbabwe during the 2003 World Cup. They bravely wore them to symbolise the death of democracy in Zimbabwe. The consequences of a spectator donning something similar during England's first match on Sunday do not bear thinking about.

So why is this tour going ahead? Well, it is simple. Money. All three parties - the Government, the ICC and the ECB - are not prepared to do anything they believe in if it will potentially cost them money. This is sad. My thoughts as a former cricketer may be slightly naive, but it is horrible to see that the game you love has a price. One would like to think that one of these three groups would be prepared to make a stand, no matter the cost, if they truly believed something was wrong.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has stated in the House of Commons that he did not want the England cricket team to travel to Harare. But government officials say that they can do nothing to stop Vaughan and his team travelling, because we live in a democracy and taking away the players passports would be an infringement of their rights. But if the PM and his government's feelings were strong, they could compensate the ECB for the fine that would be likely to come their way.

Conveniently, the ICC refuses to get involved in a country's politics. Their rules state that government intervention and threats to the safety and security of players are the only reasons why a tour can officially be cancelled. If a country were to withdraw from a scheduled tour for any other reason, it could face a heavy fine and a possible suspension from international cricket.

The ICC encouraged the 10 Test- playing nations to sign up to the Future Tours Programme - all countries have to play each other, home and away, in a five-year period - so that the smaller and financially less attractive countries - Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, New Zealand - were not ostracised.

And this is why the ECB finds itself in this totally unacceptable position. Morgan states that the ECB is responsible for securing the financial future of the game, and by instructing the players to withdraw from this tour he would be jeopardising this.

In the middle of all this are the players, and it is them I feel sorry for. They cannot win. Stephen Harmison was rightly applauded for pulling out of the tour for moral reasons. But in the same instance, I also have a lot of admiration for Ashley Giles, who turned down the chance to spend a quiet week at home. The England spinner did not want to travel, but felt it was his responsibility to go through this with his team-mates.

Weeks like this shatter dreams. As a kid, you played cricket in the back garden, at school, or at your local club hoping that one day you could be in Michael Vaughan's shoes.

The writer is cricket correspondent for 'The Independent'

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