Row flares on venue for cricket games


UK: Cricket authorities in the UK and the Conservative Party yesterday accused the British government of a woeful lack of leadership after ministers backed a boycott of the World Cup in Zimbabwe but insisted they had no powers to order such a move.

Ministers are privately urging that the World Cup matches scheduled for Zimbabwe in February be switched to South Africa. After a weekend call for a boycott from Downing Street and from Ms Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, cricket authorities angrily pointed out that no minister had made such a proposal directly to them.

The English Cricket Board said it had met the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, and the Culture Secretary, Ms Tessa Jowell, last month, but neither had suggested the matches in Zimbabwe be stopped due to human rights abuses in the country.

Mr Tim Lamb, the board's chief executive, called for a meeting at the highest level to clarify government thinking and consider the consequences of a boycott.

"Nobody from the government has contacted us directly to say they don't want us to go to Zimbabwe," he said.

But the Foreign Office last night said: "FCO officials have been in regular contact with the ECB since the week before Christmas, when the personal views of the Foreign Secretary not to go to Zimbabwe were passed on, and the official government position was made clear." It is the first time the Foreign Office has revealed any intervention by Mr Jack Straw.

The government appeared to have been galvanised into a stronger line at the weekend after Ms Short, in a BBC radio interview, described a tour as deplorable and shocking.

Mr Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, backed his party's call for tougher action against the Zimbabwean president, Mr Robert Mugabe, by writing to Mr Blair yesterday demanding details of any pressure mounted by Downing Street.

- (Guardian Service)