The British government may be considering barring Zimbabwean athletes from competing in the United Kingdom. As Tendai Maphosa reports from London, the government may be looking at this as a step to prevent Zimbabwe's cricket team from touring England next year.
The proposed ban was announced on a BBC TV sports program which said this is one of the options the British government is considering to make sure a tour by Zimbabwe's cricket team slated for next year does not happen.
The program quoted sources in British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office as saying the prime minister is determined to take a tough stance against Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.
But, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman told the French News Agency AFP Tuesday that the British government has no plans for a blanket ban on sportsmen from Zimbabwe.
A spokesperson for the British government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport told VOA, on condition of anonymity, that a blanket ban is unlikely. The department released a statement saying no decision has been taken and the matter is under review. The spokesman added that while there are no sporting sanctions on Zimbabwe, sports should not be allowed to become a propaganda tool.
Any ban would meet strong opposition from the International Cricket Council (ICC), which governs international cricket. If the tour were banned, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) would, under ICC rules, have to pay an estimated $550,000 in compensation. When VOA contacted the ICC, the organization said it would not comment on the issue.
Kate Hoey, the chairperson of the all party group on Zimbabwe in Britiain's parliament tells VOA that while she does not support a blanket ban on athletes, she favors a ban on the cricket team.
"I don't think you can play cricket against a country where cricket itself is quite dysfunctional, where the cricketing authorities are actually working, in my view, to support the ZANU-PF regime," she said. "I think cricket in Zimbabwe has become so politicized that it's quite right that we as a government, we don't want to play cricket against you."
Her comments were echoed by fellow legislator Don Foster, the opposition Liberal Democrat party's spokesman on Culture, Media and Sport. He told British television that a blanket ban is too severe.
"I think what we got to do is to recognize we already have bans on place for senior members of that appalling, brutal regime run by Robert Mugabe," he said. "I think it will be unfair to imply that some of our sportsmen and women were in the same category. We ought to be looking at individual links of those people with the regime and in particular the cricket team."
The Zimbabwe government has said a ban would be, in its words, "racist."
Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told Reuters news agency that it is up to the British government to decide who comes in and out of Britain. But, he added the British would not be thinking about stopping the tour if the team was all white. The Zimbabwean cricket team is predominantly black.