Mr Mugabe seems to have stumped the Foreign Office

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The Independent Online

How much of a horlicks - to borrow Jack Straw's felicitous term from another context - is it possible to make of a tour entailing five one-day cricket matches? An awful lot, if England's misbegotten trip to Zimbabwe is anything to go by. At the 11th hour, after 11 months of controversy, the tour was finally in real jeopardy - not because either the Government or the English cricket authorities had decided that England should not play in Zimbabwe on principle, but because a number of journalists had been refused visas.

So it was that, having got as far as Johannesburg, the England team were instructed not to board the flight to Harare. There would be "crisis" talks instead - about getting the journalists accredited! In London, the Foreign Office minister, Denis MacShane, summoned Zimbabwe's charge d'affaires. Why? "To express our deep concern that the government of Zimbabwe has denied access to British journalists covering the England cricket tour of Zimbabwe." There followed many fine words about the UK's long advocacy of media freedom in Zimbabwe.

It is indeed a weird and wonderful world where the Foreign Office and the national cricket authorities kick up a gigantic fuss about visas for half a dozen journalists, after they have spent the best part of the year pussy-footing around the basic injustices, human rights abuses, state-sponsored thuggery and media censorship that constitute the reality of today's Zimbabwe. The truth is that they lacked the spine to say loud and clear that Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe is not a country where England should be playing cricket - or anything else.

The whole sorry saga is testimony to the weakness that has characterised official attitudes to Zimbabwe. The Foreign Office admits that the situation there has deteriorated over the past year, but stopped short of banning the tour, passing the buck to the cricket authorities. The England and Wales Cricket Board passed the buck to the players, while appealing to them to go. Some did, some did not. Now everyone can blame Zimbabwe's "unacceptable" treatment of the media. Not exactly cricket, in any sense of the word.

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