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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 05:03 GMT
Aussies abandon Zimbabwe tour
Australia have called off next month's proposed tour of Zimbabwe due to growing safety concerns.
The current world Test and one-day champions had been due to play a two-Test tour in the southern African country from 11 April.
But on Wednesday, Australian Cricket Board (ACB) chairman Bob Merriman said the decision to drop the tour was based on the latest security reports.
"It is now clear that travelling to Zimbabwe will compromise their (the players) safety," Merriman said.
"The security of our people is our first priority."
Merriman said the ACB and the Zimbabwe Cricket Union had discussed the possibility of playing the matches on neutral soil, but that Zimbabwe had wanted the tour to take place at home.
The ACB hopes to reschedule the tour for 2004.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) said it was disappointed the tour could not go ahead but acknowledged the safety of players, officials and spectators was the top priority.
"The game has already lost recent series in Pakistan and this latest disruption is regrettable from a cricketing perspective," ICC president Malcolm Gray said in a statement.
"Having said that, the safety and security of teams, officials and spectators must always remain the priority in judging whether a series or match should go ahead."
The ICC reiterated that countries prevented from completing fixtures by security worries are not penalised by the ICC in any way.
The ACB had been under pressure to cancel the Zimbabwe tour from the Australian government, which has advised Australians not to travel to Zimbabwe, following the controversial re-election of President Robert Mugabe.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard chaired a three-nation Commonwealth taskforce which last week suspended Zimbabwe from the 54-nation grouping after election observers found the presidential poll was undemocratic.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said an Australian cricket tour of Zimbabwe would send the wrong signal to the re-elected Mugabe.
Zimbabwean officials told Australian media that the decision to drop the tour was purely political and that Zimbabwe was able to guarantee the Australian team's safety.
"The anxieties are coming from people who don't play the game and really I wouldn't lose much sleep over their anxiety," a government spokesman told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.
"We should leave cricket to the cricketers," he said.
But Merriman said the decision to cancel the Zimbabwe tour was not political, but based solely on player safety concerns.
"The risk has now become totally unacceptable," he said.
"The decision not to tour Zimbabwe is one the Australian Cricket Board has been deliberating on deeply, this is not an easy decision. This is something we sincerely regret."
The ACB rejected Australian media reports that players had threatened to revolt if the tour was not cancelled.
"The Australian players were advised last night. I don't think any of this will come as a surprise," said ACB chief executive James Sutherland.
The last time Australia were unable to tour a country was during the 1996 World Cup in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka when the team cancelled matches in Sri Lanka because of concerns over player safety.
Last year, New Zealand postponed their October tour of Pakistan following the 11 September attacks on the United States.
Earlier this month, Australia completed a 2-1 win in their three-Test series in South Africa.
The Australian side currently lead the South Africans 2-0 in the seven-match series of one-day internationals.
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