Ireland’s World Cup qualifier participation in doubt after African travel restrictions

Cricket Ireland prioritises player safety as further updates are expected later today

The Ireland team is currently in Zimbabwe for the World Cup qualifiers. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/ICC

The Ireland team is currently in Zimbabwe for the World Cup qualifiers. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/ICC

 

Ireland’s participation in the remainder of the women’s World Cup qualifier looks in doubt after both the UK and EU moved to impose travel restrictions on Zimbabwe.

On Thursday, the UK government added South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini to its list of red countries amid concerns of about the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

From Sunday onwards, those entering the UK from the above list of countries must undergo a hotel quarantine. As cricket is an all-island sport, this would have had severe implications for members of the squad from Northern Ireland.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly then confirmed on Friday that passengers coming into Ireland from seven southern African countries would have to quarantine, meaning all players in the squad would be affected.

It has not been determined yet if any exemptions would be in place, such as those for athletes at earlier stages of the pandemic.

It was confirmed on Friday that the first European case of the B.1.1.529 variant had been identified in Belgium.

The Irish squad and support staff have been in Zimbabwe for nearly two weeks for the qualifiers. Drawn in Group A alongside the West Indies, Sri Lanka, Papa New Guinea and the Netherlands, Ireland were hunting a top three overall finish to make the 2022 World Cup and/or a top five finish to secure a place in the next cycle of the ICC Women’s Championship.

This is not the first Covid intervention in the tournament as Papa New Guinea were forced to withdraw before a ball was bowled after positive cases left them unable to send a squad.

Ireland had completed two of their scheduled group games prior to the decision to travel home. An opening defeat to the group-favoured West Indies was followed by a crucial victory over the Netherlands.

Skipper Laura Delany was named player of the match in that win after scoring 75 and picking up 1-24 with the ball. She was also credited with a pair of run outs.

Alongside Delany, Orla Prendergast looked to be hitting her stride after a spell of 4-24 tore through the Dutch lineup.

It was a welcome return to form for Prendergast who earlier this year had been unable to bowl due to injury.

The top three in the group qualify for the next stage to meet the top three of Group B. Ireland looked likely to progress after the Netherlands win, needing the Dutch only to lose to the West Indies.

If events transpired as such, Ireland would have had one final group game against Sri Lanka on Monday before competing in the second stage of the competition.

These games would have been scheduled for December 1st, 3rd and 5th.

Those fixtures now appear unlikely to take place. If Ireland or any other country decides to return home, it is unclear what this means for World Cup qualification. The Netherlands would be in a similar position given the EU’s travel stance.

Cricket Ireland is in regular contact with the International Cricket Council, the Irish Government, Sport Ireland, Sport Northern Ireland and squad members themselves about the situation.

Cricket Ireland chief executive, Warren Deutrom, confirmed that the safety of those in Zimbabwe is paramount.

“We are very concerned about the latest developments regarding the reported new Covid variant in Southern Africa as we have our women’s squad currently in Zimbabwe playing a World Cup qualifier.”

“While the circumstances around travel restrictions and health advice is a fast-moving one, we have been in close contact with the ICC, the Irish government and sports bodies in both jurisdictions to better understand the facts, and to properly inform and reassure the squad leadership.

“Our decision-making will be first-and-foremost based on the health and safety of players and support staff.

“We will provide updates as soon as we can.”

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