A scar on the conscience of us all

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The Independent Online

It is hardly surprising that the England cricket tour of Zimbabwe is turning out to be such a degrading spectacle. It is a tour that should never have been scheduled, let alone allowed to take place. Yet at no point has anyone in authority, from cabinet ministers to the sport's governing bodies, given support to the stance most English cricket followers would support: that this tour should not go ahead, regardless of the consequences. As a result, a group of sportsmen ends up as pawns in an international game of diplomacy.

It is hardly surprising that the England cricket tour of Zimbabwe is turning out to be such a degrading spectacle. It is a tour that should never have been scheduled, let alone allowed to take place. Yet at no point has anyone in authority, from cabinet ministers to the sport's governing bodies, given support to the stance most English cricket followers would support: that this tour should not go ahead, regardless of the consequences. As a result, a group of sportsmen ends up as pawns in an international game of diplomacy.

The loathsome regime of Robert Mugabe deserves to be treated with contempt, rather than offered the succour of a tour by one of the giants of the cricketing world. No one should be fooled that this is a debate about sport. The imbroglio is symptomatic of the failure of Zimbabwe's neighbours, especially the South African regime of Thabo Mbeki, and those countries with a moral duty to Zimbabwe, most notably the United Kingdom, to match their responsibilities with appropriate actions. Mr Mugabe retains his vice-like grip on power, free to starve his people, torture his opponents and drive his nation into ruin. While the international community focuses on events in Iraq, in Iran, in North Korea, a wealthy nation that was once a beacon of hope for Africa descends into hell. It is a scar on the conscience of us all.

But for all that wider picture, there remains the immediate issue of the cricket tour. When the Zimbabwean government initially refused entry to journalists deemed hostile, the tour should have been called off. The lamentable England Cricket Board could have salvaged things, even at that late stage. Instead, true to form, it engaged in squalid attempts to persuade the Zimbabwean regime to change its mind over this comparatively minor matter. What an insult to those who face danger every day in opposing Mr Mugabe, or to those courageous cricketers whose have risked their lives to protest against the regime.

This incident must not be forgotten when the players leave Zimbabwe in a week's time. David Morgan, the spineless head of the ECB, has shown he is unfit to hold such a position. If he lacks even the decency to resign, his resignation should be demanded. And the international community must turn up the heat on the despot of Harare. His country has suffered long enough. If this wretched tour is to have any positive impact, it must be as a catalyst for serious action to remove Mr Mugabe.

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