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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 12:25 GMT
Any Zimbabwe sport ban 'madness'
Zimbabwe cricketer Brendan Taylor
Zimbabwe's cricket team is due in England next year
Zimbabwe has reacted angrily to reports the British government is considering banning all Zimbabwean sports people from competing in the UK.

Zimbabwe's Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told the BBC that any ban would be "racist" and "madness".

The UK prime minister's spokesman has denied that a ban is being planned.

But Downing Street says it would support the England Cricket Board if it decided to ban Zimbabwe's team from touring next year.

The UK government is said to be determined to take a tough stance against President Robert Mugabe.

Mr Mugabe is seeking re-election later this month.

He is accused of rigging previous polls and human rights abuses against his opponents.

'Propaganda tool'

Mr Ndlovu says his country's sports men and women are not political, and should not be targeted.

It showed the British government was racist, and still thought of Zimbabwe as a colony, he said.

He also told the BBC that any move to ban Zimbabwean sports people from Britain should be condemned by all sports-loving nations.

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"I don't think the British Government will sink so low as to implement that - and if they do, well, we are appealing to the world community to express their concern and urge the British to stop that madness," he said.

Mr Ndlovu said Zimbabwe had the support of the International Olympic Committee and Fifa and he said the joke would be on the British government if measures to ban Zimbabwean sports competitors were introduced.

He said Britain had a "vendetta" against Zimbabwe because of Mr Mugabe's seizure of white-owned land.

The BBC has learnt that the option of banning all Zimbabwean sports competitors is being discussed to prevent Zimbabwe's cricket team touring England next year.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that no final decision had been taken.

"While there are currently no sporting sanctions on Zimbabwe, we should not let international sport become a propaganda tool for dictators."

Sports implications

Cricket chiefs have warned that England could lose the rights to host the 2009 World Twenty20 if Zimbabwe are banned.

A likely compromise would be for the government to stop Zimbabwe cricketers from coming to the UK next summer.

But denying visas to all Zimbabwe sports people would be a highly controversial decision, says BBC sports news correspondent James Pearce.

For example, Cara Black could not defend her Wimbledon women's doubles title, Olympic swimming champion Kirsty Coventry would not be able to enter the UK and golfer Nick Price would be unable to play in the Open.

There could also be a knock-on effect for England's World Cup bid for 2018 and for Zimbabwe's competitors at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.

There would be no issue with the 2012 Olympics, as the government has already had to sign the host city contract that guarantees entry into the country for anybody with International Olympic Committee (IOC) accreditation.

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