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Britain Will Not Block England Cricket Team From Touring Zimbabwe - 2004-05-06

Britain says it cannot legally prevent the England cricket team from touring Zimbabwe, despite worries about the political and human rights situation there. Senior government officials and English Cricket Board executives discussed the problem.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says the government understands the England team could face stiff fines if it does not go to Zimbabwe.

But he says Britain will not block the Zimbabwe tour, despite a ruling in March by international cricket regulators that governments can do so.

"The International Cricket Council introduced a new regulation stipulating that national cricket authorities would be penalized if they withdrew from fixtures without legitimate safety or security concerns or a direct instruction from government," he said. "The British government has no such power to instruct people not to leave the country to play sport. We do not have state-run cricket in this country, nor should we."

As for England pulling out for security reasons, Mr. Straw was non-committal, telling a news conference the situation is under constant review.

The chief executive of the English Cricket Board, Tim Lamb, said Australia has decided to go ahead with a Zimbabwe tour scheduled to begin next week.

"The Australian cricket board recently carried out a safety and security inspection and it was felt that it was perfectly appropriate and safe for the tour to take place," said Tim Lamb. "But I can assure you that at the appropriate time we will conduct a rigorous safety and security assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe prior to the tour."

Some leading English players have expressed reluctance to go to Zimbabwe on moral grounds, concerned about the country's human-rights record under President Robert Mugabe. English cricket executives say no player will be penalized if he drops out of the Zimbabwe tour.