The leader of Zimbabwe's opposition yesterday claimed that if Nasser Hussain took England's World Cup cricket team to Zimbabwe he would be endorsing Robert Mugabe's regime.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), called for a symbolic boycott that would show Zimbabwe was isolated.
He warned that if England went ahead with a group match in Harare as planned on 13 February, Mr Mugabe, the patron of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, would exploit the situation for his political advantage.
"If the English captain is aware of the situation in Zimbabwe I don't think he would find it appropriate to come to this country in a situation where everything is collapsing politically, economically and socially," he said.
"If he comes here, he will be endorsing the illegitimate Mugabe regime."
Mr Tsvangirai's comments are at odds with the contention by Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the England & Wales Cricket Board, who said earlier this month that senior members of the MDC confirmed their support for the World Cup going ahead in Zimbabwe when he visited the country.
Mr Tsvangirai's intervention came as the row over England's participation in Zimbabwe intensified.
Mr Lamb accused the Government of using cricket as a "soft target" while British businesses were allowed to continue trading in Zimbabwe.
He also criticised the Government for claiming it had changed its stance over Zimbabwe without consulting the team. "Nobody at the Government has contacted us directly to say they don't want us to go to Zimbabwe.
"We don't believe it's up to the ECB to make political or moral judgements about different regimes in different parts of the world."
Mr Blair's spokesman defended the Government's position and said officials had first spoken to the ECB in October. "We have made it clear consistently that if it were for ministers to decide, their decision would be that England should not play and the advice to the ECB from the Prime Minister down is that the England team should not go, but it is their decision," he said.
He said imposing sanctions would have little affect on the Zanu-PF leadership and would worsen the country's humanitarian disaster.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) said England would forfeit the points in Zimbabwe if England did not play its match in Harare because of political considerations.
England could also have to pay compensation if they did not fulfil their 13 February fixture in Zimbabwe, which may total up to £1m.
But Labour MP Ann Clwyd, chairman of the all-party human rights group of MPs, said there was enough time for the ICC to relocate the games in South Africa.
Mr Hussain yesterday reiterated his appeal for help from the Government over the decision on whether to play. "It's a political issue, it's a moral issue. You can't expect some of these young lads who are touring around the world to make a moral decision about Zimbabwe, an uninformed decision," said Mr Hussain, who was backed by his Australian counterpart Steve Waugh.
Australia is due to play in Bulawayo against Zimbabwe during the group stages. Zimbabwe will play all of its six preliminary games within its borders. The tournament will also be hosted by Kenya and South Africa, where the bulk of the matches will be played.
The Zimbabwean Government accused Britain of using cricket to wage a propaganda war. The Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, said: "If the British and the Australians want to keep cricket as a white and colonial sport, then they should do so alone because we are not interested in their rubbish."
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