After weeks of wrangling, Thursday's Cricket World Cup match in Harare between England and Zimbabwe has been called off. But it is still not clear whether the match will be rescheduled or the England team will be penalized for pulling out.
It is finally official, the England team will not be going to Zimbabwe for Thursday's match. International Cricket Council chief Malcolm Speed made the announcement in Cape Town. "The England Cricket Board has notified the International Cricket Council that it will not play its match scheduled for Harare on 13 of February, 2003," said Mr. Speed. "The England Cricket Board has cited its continuing safety concerns for its players as its reason for not meeting that commitment."
But that is still apparently not the end of the matter. Mr. Speed says it is still possible that the World Cup organizers could relocate the match to a venue in South Africa at some later date. He says the English cricket board has submitted new information to support its concerns about security in Zimbabwe.
The head of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Tim Lamb, explained why his team does not want to play in Zimbabwe. "Concerns about the players' and officials' safety have manifested themselves in two ways," he said. "Firstly, in the receipt of overt threats against the players and their families by the organization known as Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe, and second, in the deteriorating state of civil order in that country."
The England team has expressed those concerns before, and the World Cup organizers have rejected them. South African police have dismissed the threatening letter as a hoax aimed at disrupting the World Cup.
ICC chief Malcolm Speed says a technical committee will decide what happens next. The Australian, Indian and Pakistani teams have all indicated they intend to play their scheduled matches in Zimbabwe, and some reports indicate they might object to allowing the England match to be moved.
If the committee is not persuaded by the new evidence, it could impose severe penalties on England, including the loss of four World Cup tournament points. The already cash-strapped team could also be fined up to $16 million. And both the Zimbabwean and South African cricket boards say they might cancel their teams' next tours to England in retaliation.
Thousands of disappointed Zimbabwean cricket fans were looking forward to seeing the two teams do battle on the cricket pitch. Zimbabwean team captain Heath Streak says he and his team are also disappointed.
But England's decision to pull out of the match was quickly applauded by Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Party spokesman Paul Nyati told VOA, it is a victory for decency.