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EDITIONS
 Sunday, 29 December, 2002, 00:03 GMT
ECB defends Zimbabwe go-ahead
England captain Nasser Hussain (right) leads his players off the field
England's players are coming under pressure
Cricket bosses have defended a decision to allow England to play a World Cup match in Zimbabwe, following criticism from aid minister Clare Short.

The international development secretary said it would be "shocking and deplorable" for the team to visit Zimbabwe, because of the way its government was treating supporters of the opposition.

The English Cricket Board said it did not make match decisions on political grounds, but would discuss the situation with the UK government if requested.

We will be very, very happy to sit down with government and talk about it

ECB spokesman
"There may well be wider political, diplomatic, and economic ramifications from the England team participating in the World Cup," said spokesman John Read.

"But if that is truly the case then we would expect the government to come to us directly and speak to us and express their concerns.

"So far that's not happened, but if and when it does happen we will be very, very happy to sit down with government and talk about it."

Downing Street itself repeated calls for the cricketers to "reflect" on the decision, but said it was not for politicians to tell the players what to do.

'Massively damaging'

Ms Short joined a growing list of sports personalities and politicians who have called for a boycott of the World Cup matches in the African country.

"An election has been stolen and people are being starved because they dared to vote freely," she said.

"I think they should not go. It's like pretending everything is OK in Zimbabwe and it isn't.

"The government is destroying its country and massively damaging its people and not feeding hungry people.

"How can you go and play a game of cricket in that?"

Clare Short
It's like pretending everything is OK in Zimbabwe and it isn't

Clare Short

Ms Short told BBC Five Live she would be contacting Tessa Jowell, the minister in charge of sport, about her concerns.

Downing Street asked the players to think about the "humanitarian and political crisis" inside Zimbabwe, but said ministers could not prevent them playing.

"Seven million people are already in need of food assistance," a Number 10 spokesman said.

"We ask them to reflect on this, but ultimately... it is not for government to tell the cricketing authorities what to do."

Tory MP Andrew Mackay called for a formal request from the government for a boycott, with the prime minister "putting his whole weight against the tour".

"Our cricketers must understand that by going they will give succour to the Mugabe regime that starves its political opponents and commits dreadful human rights breaches," he said.

Our cricketers must understand that by going they will give succour to the Mugabe regime

Tory MP Andrew Mackay
Britain has been leading condemnation of Zimbabwe, where president Robert Mugabe has been pursuing a policy of forced redistribution of land owned by white farmers.

His failure to conduct fair elections earlier this year resulted in European Union sanctions being imposed on his ruling Zanu PF party.

Mr Mugabe's opponents have faced beatings and murder, and now a massive food shortage in Zimbabwe is widely seen as being manipulated to starve them.

Former England captain David Gower voiced concern earlier this month about the cricketers going to Zimbabwe, because of the "immense injustice" there.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's David Eades
"Clare Short's remarks turn up the heat on the ECB"
  International Development Secretary Clare Short
"I think it is deplorable and shocking"
  John Read, English Cricket Board
"We are not a political body"
Cricket World Cup 2003 begins on 8 February in South Africa

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16 Dec 02 | Sports Talk
28 Dec 02 | Cricket
21 Dec 02 | Cricket
20 Dec 02 | Cricket
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