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 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 19:10 GMT
Zimbabwe debate ongoing
Nasser Hussain batting in Harare two years ago
England will be among six teams playing in Zimbabwe
Jonny Saunders

The International Cricket Council's decision to rubber-stamp the staging of World Cup games in Zimbabwe was not really a surprise.

The word was that the ICC were always going to go ahead with the schedule as planned, if Zimbabwe was deemed to be safe.

And once the delegation sent to the country decided it was, it was only a matter of time before the ICC's chief executive Malcolm Speed confirmed the news.

There will no doubt be vociferous opposition and the whole issue brings a number of interesting questions into focus.

The first and most important of these is can you really disassociate sport and politics? I think the short answer is no.

ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed answers questions
ICC chief Malcolm Speed put cricket first

By going to Zimbabwe as part of an organised sporting event, the cricketers will be giving tacit support to the Mugabe regime.

Zimbabwe's president will revel in the fact that the country he rules has been given international approval - albeit only from a cricketing standpoint.

His position as patron of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union blurs the line between politics and sport even further.

To argue that the two are separate entities in view of that must be questionable.

What I think is the most interesting issue is what the players are going to think as a result of this ruling.

The England players are contracted to the ECB and are therefore bound to do what the board wants them to do.

But could the ECB really argue with a player if he says as an individual that he would find it invidious to enter a country that has such a poor human rights record at this moment in time?

Children in Zimbabwe receive food aid
Zimbabwe has a severe food shortage

There will certainly be a lot of pressure put on players over the next few weeks to think about what they'll actually be doing by going to play cricket in Zimbabwe.

It is a horrible situation for them because they become caught in a situation that isn't of their making.

Whatever happens in February, you can rest assured that the ICC's decision will be the start of a vociferous debate.

People will no doubt ask whether the ICC should have taken a moral stance as well as the one they have taken on safety and security.

A lot of players and journalists are going to have to do a lot of soul searching as well; the government are going to be key players as well.

One thing is certain, there will be a lot more said about this issue before the start of the World Cup at the beginning of February.

 ICC chief Malcolm Speed
"Our decisions are based on cricket issues"
Cricket World Cup 2003 begins on 8 February in South Africa

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