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England's Cricket Team Must Decide on Game in Zimbabwe - 2002-12-30

To play or not to play? That is the question vexing England's cricketers, the game's governing body and the British government, regarding a scheduled trip to Zimbabwe in February.

With the Cricket World Cup looming, time is running out on whether England should participate. Although most of the England matches are scheduled to take place in South Africa, one controversial game is set to be played in Zimbabwe and the potential political fallout from that is causing great consternation among the sportsmen and politicians here.

Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, would prefer to see England pull out of that match because of the human rights record of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe. However, Mr. Blair says he has no power to ban the English team from playing and the final decision is up to the English cricket board.

Former England player Chris Broad says the time has now come for the British leader either to step in and act decisively or move aside.

"We are talking about political decisions here and the politicians are passing the buck." he said. "I really do believe that politicians and the cricket authorities have got to get together. They have got to sort this out one way or the other. And it is no good that Tony Blair is saying that well, it is not our decision. If it is not our decision, well why does he not bring all of the other politicians into line and just let the cricket authorities deal with it the way they see fit?"

With the pressure mounting, high level talks are a distinct possibility, with Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott saying that the door is open for direct discussions with the English Cricket Board.

More than moral issues are involved. The international body that governs cricket has endorsed the Zimbabwe matches and has warned England's cricket board that if it pulls out of the Harare match, it will effectively result in a forfeit and could face a hefty fine of around $1.5 million.